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Session 2: From Training Camp to Battlefield


With twenty-four military installations on its soil during World War II, North Carolina trained more soldiers than any other state. Training camps turned out paratroopers, infantrymen, naval pilots, and even dogs taught to perform military work. This session examines the state’s role in preparing men to fight and the transition from training to combat.


North Carolina's Training Camps

John S. Duvall

I want to tell you what the opening of the second front entailed, so that you can know and appreciate and forever be humbly grateful to those both dead and alive who did it for you. - From war correspondent Ernie Pyle’s lead news story on the Normandy Invasion, June 12, 1944

In the early morning hours of June 6, 1944, the Allies launched a vast invasion force against the Normandy coast of France. The long-awaited “second front” was opened against German forces in the west. A month earlier Governor J. Melville Broughton issued a call to the people of North Carolina to be ready to observe, with prayer and public tribute, the impending attack against the Nazis in Europe.

"According to all indications, we are approaching one of the most momentous events in all history. Invasion Day, or D-Day, as it is referred to, will be more than a dramatic incident; it will be the all-out effort of the armed forces representing the cause of democracy, decency, freedom, and righteousness in the world. Furthermore, in this effort will be involved the lives of thousands of young men from our own state who are a part of the great armed force now poised for action . . . Nearly 300,000 of our North Carolina sons are in the armed services, a large part of whom are in combat areas. In this approaching hour of grave danger, they should be sustained by the earnest prayers of all our people."

Sergeant Elmo Jones of North Carolina was one of the very first Allied soldiers to land on French soil on D-Day. Jones, a member of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment [PIR], 82D Airborne Division, was assigned to lead a Pathfinder team into Normandy in preparation for a massive air assault by more than 20,000 paratroopers who would land before dawn on D-Day. Heavily laden with equipment, Sergeant Jones jumped from his C-47 aircraft at an altitude of 300 feet, his parachute blossomed over his head in the night sky and, almost at once, he was on the ground in enemy territory. . . . Sergeant Jones’ seven-man team waited for the main body of the 505th PIR to arrive overhead. Their team was one of the few in the correct location.

By daylight on D-Day, some 13,400 U.S. paratroopers of the 82D and 101st Airborne Divisions, both trained at Fort Bragg, were fighting German troops over a wide area of Normandy’s Cotentin Peninsula.

For the Americans, the airborne drops had been anything but a success. Heavy German antiaircraft fire and clouds disoriented the aircraft crews; paratroopers were scattered everywhere, often far from their objectives. Only a few units, like the 505th PIR, got down on the correct drop zone in fair order. Providentially, the 505th PIR captured its key objective, Ste. Mere Eglise, the first French town to be liberated from the Germans, by dawn. . . .

Although the airborne assault was not a “textbook” drop, the troopers of the 82D and 101st still accomplished their mission of disrupting and confusing the Germans, preventing counterattacks against “Utah Beach” where the American 4th Division began landing at first light. Reinforced by glider-borne infantry and artillery, the two divisions fought in Normandy for over a month, sustaining a casualty rate of nearly fifty percent. At first surrounded by German infantry, tanks, and artillery, the Airborne units, joined by seaborne forces, pushed the enemy back, seizing bridges, crossroads, and other key objectives as they helped enlarge the allied lodgement in Europe. In Normandy, the 82D and 101st proved the worth of parachute and glider forces beyond all doubt. Moreover, these North Carolina trained troopers had led the strategic assault which would end the Nazi occupation of Europe.

In November 1942, Governor Broughton noted that the man most responsible for the development of airborne forces in the United States Army was Major General William C. Lee (pictured to the right) of Harnett County. Born and raised in Dunn, Bill Lee graduated from North Carolina State College and saw service with the 81st Division in World War I. After the war, Lee decided to make the army a career. He served in the Tank Corps and worked with French and British tank units during 1933–35. It was while he was in Europe in the mid-1930s that he became aware that the Germans were training parachute and glider units. The idea of airborne [troops] became a passion for Lee.

It was none other than President Roosevelt who stirred up interest in the airborne in 1940. Alarmed by newsreels showing the German airborne units in action in Europe, FDR asked the Army to study the idea which led to Major Bill Lee’s assignment to the project on June 25, 1940. Through his efforts the Army staged successful experiments with a parachute test platoon at Fort Benning in the summer of 1940, set up the first tactical parachute battalion, the 501st, and activated, early in 1941, the Provisional Parachute Group—with Lieutenant Colonel Bill Lee at its head.

In March 1942, the Army created Airborne Command at Fort Bragg with Lee as commanding general. Based on his recommendations, the army decided to create Airborne divisions, units of over 10,000 soldiers, complete with artillery, engineers, and support elements. Fort Bragg would be the training center. . . . Lee was promoted to Major General in August 1942 and given command of the 101st Airborne Division. The 82D and the 101st Airborne Divisions moved to Fort Bragg in the fall of 1942 to begin training for overseas deployment.

Airborne Command transformed the skies over Fort Bragg and the North Carolina Sandhills region in the period 1942–45, with parachutes, troop transports, and gliders a common sight. To augment Fort Bragg, the Army developed Camp Mackall at Hoffman, North Carolina, to be a key airborne training center. Construction began in the spring of 1942 and by early 1943 an airfield was complete, along with 1,750 buildings. . . . 

Jack H. Highsmith of Wilmington wore this army air corps patch on his uniform while serving overseas. The Airborne Troop Command consisted of aircrews that delivered paratroopers and gliders to prearranged landing zones. Highsmith participated in several combat operations in the European theater.

Named for the first U.S. paratrooper to die in combat, . . . Camp Mackall was soon joined by another key airborne establishment, Laurinburg-Maxton Army Air Base. Home of the First Troop Carrier Command, Laurinburg-Maxton was activated August 28, 1942. The new base, another extraordinary construction effort, was assigned the mission of providing intensive training for troop carrier and glider groups and for coordinating the training with “airborne units of infantry, artillery, paratroopers, engineers, and medical components of the Army.” Thus the vision of General Bill Lee had created a vast training establishment for the Army’s new Airborne arm, complete with large airfields at Pope, Mackall, and Laurinburg-Maxton. . . . 

Before the war’s end, Airborne Command would train five airborne divisions and a host of independent units, including the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, the army’s first black parachute unit.

Airborne training was only one aspect of the sprawling Fort Bragg complex, whose population exceeded one hundred thousand personnel by mid-1943. New inductees were received by the thousands throughout the war years and tens of thousands of artillerymen were trained on the post’s extensive ranges. In addition to the five airborne divisions, the 9th and 100th Infantry Divisions trained at Fort Bragg, as did the famous 2nd Armor Division.

By 1943, North Carolina was training more men for war than any other state. . . . In addition to Fort Bragg and Camp Mackall, the Army had an engineer training center at Camp Sutton in Monroe, an air defense base at Camp Davis, and a major infantry training center at Camp Butner, north of Durham. Butner was home to the 78th Infantry Division in 1942.

Women served in all branches of the military during WWII. These women were WASPs: Women's Air Force Service Pilots. From their formation in 1943 until their dismissal in December 1944, WASPs flew nearly 60 million miles for the Army Air Forces. The WASPs in this photo served at Camp Davis in Holly Ridge. U.S. Army photo.

Over the course of the war, some 250,000 troops trained at Camp Butner. Its economic impact on Granville, Durham, and Person counties was computed in the millions of dollars per year. Thousands of local civilians found work at the camp. Army Air Force facilities were equally important to the state, providing jobs, contracts, and salaries. Air defense groups operated out of Army Air Fields in Wilmington, Raleigh, and Charlotte. Maintenance training was conducted at Seymour Johnson Army Air field near Goldsboro, while Charlotte’s Morris Field was utilized as a maintenance depot. At Greensboro, the Air Force opened Basic Training Center No. 10, a major technical and training command base . . . Located close to downtown Greensboro, BTC #10, later redesignated the Overseas Replacement Depot, transformed Greensboro from a southern textile and manufacturing center into an “army town.” Some 87,500 troops were trained in Greensboro from 1943–1944.

Main gate of Basic Training Center No. 10 in Greensboro. Image courtesy of Chuck Gallagher.

Tens of thousands were moved through the Replacement Depot which operated until 1946 processing soldiers back to civilian life.

Knollwood Field near Pinehurst operated as a key communications training center for the Air Force from 1942 through 1943. Air Force personnel learned to use teletype machines and other modern communications equipment.

Rivaling the Army in the scope of its training operations in North Carolina, the U.S. Marine Corps trained pilots and naval infantry for war at Cherry Point Marine Air Station and Camp Lejeune. Cherry Point was an extraordinary training and maintenance base, with over 20,000 station personnel handling the complex work of preparing bomber and fighter pilots for war. Another 15,000 were stationed at outlying fields at New Bern, Pollocksville, Kinston, Greenville, Washington, Atlantic, Bogue, New River and Edenton. Flyers by the thousands were trained. . . . On any given day during the war, the air over eastern North Carolina was literally full of Marine aircraft.




Military personnel performed a wide variety of tasks at Camp Lejuene. The top photograph shows Private First Class Charlotte Crane of Indianapolis operating a radial drill at the Women Marines Training Base. Crane was in the U.S. Marine Corps Women's Reserve, which began in February 1943. In the photograph on the bottom, Sergeant Raymond G. Barnosk is training a dog for duty. These marine “devil dogs” carried messages and first aid supplies, located wounded soldiers, and accompanied marines in landing operations and sentry duty. U.S. Marine Corps photos.













When President Franklin Roosevelt inspected Camp Lejeune on December 18, 1944, the great Marine station on the New River had already sent tens of thousands of Marines to war. Major General Alexander A. Vandegrift deployed the 1st Marine Division overseas in the spring of 1942. On August 7, 1942, the Division assaulted the beaches of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, the first major U.S. offensive of the Pacific war. Marines trained at Lejeune would be in the assault echelons of attacks against Japanese-held islands throughout the war. It was at Camp Lejeune that Leatherneck troops learned the basics of attacking across the beach, as well as the use of armor, amphibious tractors, artillery and small arms. From 1941 through the end of the war, tens of thousands trained at the Camp, including thousands of women Marines who played a vital part in the war effort. In a very real sense, Camp Lejeune was the cutting edge of the nation’s victory in the Pacific.

Along with the Marines, the Navy established a presence in North Carolina during World War II. Bases were established at Morehead City and Southport to coordinate ship movements, maintenance and defense. At Ocracoke, a small naval base was established to aid in the anti-submarine battle [taking place off the Outer Banks]. Carrier pilots were trained at the Naval Air Station at Manteo, including the famous VF-17 whose pilots recorded 154 kills in the Pacific Theater. A naval air station at Elizabeth City operated Blimps, “lighter than air” aircraft, used for antisubmarine patrols. Their work augmented Coast Guard flight operations from another large air base at Elizabeth City.

U-Boat patrols were also conducted by the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), an all-volunteer unit under Air Force jurisdiction, which used small civilian planes to spot subs, damaged ships, and seamen from ships sunk by the Germans. Flying out of Beaufort and Manteo, CAP pilots such as Oscar E. Shouse, a mail carrier from Winston-Salem, and Samuel Stowe Jr., a Belmo[n]t textile worker, flew hundreds of hours out over the Atlantic in planes with almost no navigation equipment. It was a dangerous business at best and some, like Leonard Lundquist and Stephen Williams of CAP Base 21 at Beaufort, lost their lives during patrols in June 1943. Governor Broughton expressed the gratitude of the State, noting that “these gallant men rendered notable service to their state and nation and exemplified in their lives and deeds the highest tradition of the great branch of the air service which has so faithfully protected the shore line of our state.”

From Training to Battle

John S. Duvall

Everyday life in North Carolina was transformed in the years from 1941 to 1945, particularly for those who volunteered or were drafted into service. . . . Discipline, team work, self-sacrifice, and training to be physically fit changed service members in profound ways. The military meant absolute boredom for some and absolute terror for those in battle.

Letters written by Tar Heels in the service reveal the many facets of World War II. Lieutenant T. B. Baird wrote to his old friends at the Asheville Bakery Company in October, 1943 about his new life in India: 

“Well, I’m having the time of my life. Travel, adventures, strange lands, and all that sort of thing.” . . .

Sergeant Laura Pfeiffer, a Buncombe County native, writing from Fort Sheridan, Illinois, commented on her life as a medical supply technician in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC):

“I’m very happy in this work. I have long hours. Hardly ever get out of the office before 8:00 at night and begin again at 6:45.”

Combat training was hazardous . . . as Private David B. Clayton of Asheville indicated in a letter written in July 1943 from Fort Hood, Texas:

“We got up at five o’clock Thursday morning and right after breakfast we went through the infiltration course . . . We had to crawl through tightly strung barbed wire for 100 yards, with machine gun bullets going right over your head. Lots of guys got hit on the helmet, but I dug a trench through the ground with my nose.”

Combat, of course, brought its own special experience. Consider this extraordinary story, told by First Lieutenant Rodger A. Grant, Jr., of Asheville, to his parents in a letter written from San Francisco on November 15, 1943. Grant, a P-40 pilot, had been shot down over New Guinea, on September 21, 1943:

"I can’t include the whole story here but will tell you as much as possible. I was in the jungle eighteen days and walked approximately one hundred and twenty-five miles. The country is very similar to the Smoky Mountains except the mountains are covered with jungle instead of laurel. All the woodcraft, camping, etc., that I learned . . . in the woods stood me good stead there. For the most part, the trip would be like walking over the mountains from say Robbinsville to Cataloochie. All in all it was an enjoyable trip. I landed on the side of a mountain, climbed down out of the trees, wrapped up in the chute to sleep. Next day sighted a Jap camp and assumed the whole area under enemy influence. Lived on chocolate and slept in the day and walked at night for six days. Finally decided I was far enough away to approach natives, so did so and found them very friendly . ." .

Lieutenant Alexander Simpson, Company D., 30th Engineers, tells of the invasion of Sicily in a letter written to Hattie Smith of Raleigh on July 23, 1943:

"It seems that Sicily was invaded successfully, recently, and who was up here on one of the first waves but yours truly . . . As we approached the enemy shore through heavy seas . . . there was a mixture of feelings. You couldn’t very well tell if you were scared or seasick. I guess it was a little of both. Searchlights from the enemy shore proved that our approach was known to them. Naval batteries and shore batteries answered one another . . . You could see tracer bullets whiz down the beach in enfilade fire . . . Bullets started kicking up dirt around us, and mortars exploded with a descending ‘swish!’ I learned to ‘bite the dust!’ It’s amazing how soft that ground feels when you hear a bomb whistling, or a plane dives on you."

An infantryman in the 30th Division in Belgium, January 1945. Nicknamed the "Old Hickory Division," the 30th had more soldiers from North Carolina than any other single unit in the war.

Writing to his mother in Raleigh in 1945, Corporal Johnnie O’Donnell, Headquarters Battery, 9th Infantry Division, talks hopefully about the coming end of the war:

"Dear All—Everything is OK with me here in Germany at last. I hope my next ‘somewhere’ will be in the States . . . Just think Mom, from North Africa, to Sicily, England, France, Belgium, and now Germany itself. If only the war could end and it looks like it will soon. We are all sweating it out and I know you are too. We can only hope and pray for that happy day.. . ."

At military training camps all of these soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines had shared the common experience of basic training. . . . With that training behind them, they were prepared to go “overseas.” Marion Hargrove [from Mount Olive] captured the transition from training camp to battlefront perfectly in his famous book, See Here, Private Hargrove, when he wrote about the end of training for soldiers at Fort Bragg’s Field Artillery Replacement Training Center:

"This afternoon the sound of marching feet came up Headquarters Street from the south and a battery of departing soldiers approached. As they neared the headquarters building, there came the order, ‘Count cadence – command!’ and two hundred voices took up a chant. They passed, counting their footsteps in ringing ordered tones.

Laden with haversacks, they passed in perfect order. Their lines were even, their marching co-ordinated and confident. Their uniforms no longer bore the awkward stamp. Their caps were cocky but correct and their neckties were tucked between the right two buttons.

The cadence count is the scheme of the battery commander who feels proud of the men he has trained, who wants to show them off to the higher-ups in Center Headquarters. ‘The general might be standing by his window now, watching my men pass,’ they say, “If he isn’t, we should attract his attention.’

Just as their arrival marks an emotional ebb, their departure is the flood tide. The men who came in a few weeks ago, green and terrified, leave now as soldiers. The corporal whom they dreaded then is now just a jerk who’s bucking for sergeant. Although they are glad that they have been trained with other men on the same level here, the training center which was first a vast and awful place is now just a training center, all right in its way—for rookies. They themselves have outgrown their kindergarten.

They see the commanding general standing on the side lines with his aide. He is no longer an ogre out of Washington who might, for all they know, have the power of life and death over them to administer it at a whim. He is the commanding general, a good soldier and a good fellow. 

The band is at the railroad siding, this time to see them off with a flourish. They pay more attention to the band this time. They know the “Caisson Song.” They know their own Replacement Center Marching Song, composed by one of their number, a quiet little ex-music teacher named Harvey Bosell. They hum the tune as they board the Shanghai Express.

They board the train and they sit waiting for it to take them to their permanent Army post and their part in the war.

As a special favor and for old times’ sake, the band swings slowly into the song that is the voice of their nostalgia, ‘The Sidewalks of New York.’ Yankee or Rebel, Minnesotan or Nevadan, they love that song.

You can see their faces tightening a little, and a gently melancholy look come into their eyes as the trombone wails beneath the current of the music. Their melancholy is melancholy with a shrug now. Home and whatever else was dearest to them a few months ago are still dear, but a soldier has to push them into the background when there’s a war to be fought.

With the music still playing, the train pulls slowly out and Sergeant Knowles waves it good-bye with his baton.

An old sergeant, kept in the Replacement Center to train the men whose fathers fought with him a generation ago, stands on the side and watches them with a firm, proud look.

‘Give ‘em hell, boys,’ he shouts behind them. ‘Give ‘em hell!’"

Reprinted by permission from North Carolina during World War II: On Home Front and Battle Front, 1941–1945 by John S. Duvall, World War II Fiftieth Anniversary Commemorative Committee of the Airborne and Special Operations Museum Foundation, Fayetteville, N.C.: 1996.

Assignment 2

Complete one of the following assignments:

Option 1 (Choose this option if you are seeking technology credits for this course.)*
Find three websites (not included in this session) about World War II soldiers’ experiences in training or on the battlefield, or both. Briefly describe each site and answer the following questions:

  • Do you feel the information in the websites is accurate? Why or why not?
  • How can you use these websites in your classroom? 
  • How could the sites better suit your needs? 
  • Would you recommend them to other educators? Why or why not?

Email the assignment to

*Please contact your local education agency or principal if you are interested in this option to ensure that you can earn technology credits for the workshop. If questions arise, contact Sally

Bloom at 919-807-7965 or If your LEA does allow technology credits for this course and you complete Option 2 of this session and the assignments from sessions 4 and 5, your Certificate of Participation will confirm that you qualify for those credits.

Option 2 (If you are seeking reading credits for this course, choose this option.)*

Primary sources, like the soldiers' letter excerpts in this session, the child's letter in Session 5, and documents in the scrapbook, can be fascinating items that make history come alive and make reading engaging. Using World War II-related primary sources found in this workshop and/or elsewhere, develop a lesson plan that:

  • teaches your students the difference between primary and secondary sources
  • demonstrates the personal and real feel of history that reading a diary entry, letter, oral history transcript, document, and/or period newspaper account can invoke 
  • shows how reading primary sources differs from reading textbooks and other secondary sources

Submit your completed lesson plan via e-mail to

*Please contact your local education agency or principal if you are interested in this option to ensure that you can earn reading credits for the workshop. If questions arise, contact Sally Bloom at 919-807-7965 or

Option 3
Create a lesson plan for your needs in which your students research a World War II unit that trained in North Carolina. Focus on the training, the division’s war record, or both.

Submit your completed assignment via e-mail to

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