Family Fun: Airborne & Special Operations Museum

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The Airborne & Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville lets families step into the boots of heroic soldiers who fought for our country as part of the Parachute Test Platoon in the 1940s to today.

The simple act of walking over the polished, white granite of the honor pavers outside the museum entrance is a poignant reminder of the sacrifices men and women have made throughout our nation’s history. During a recent visit, a young boy of about 7 was excitedly recounting the many adventures awaiting inside the museum – a place he obviously considered well worth a repeat visit. The museum offers year-round activities for families.

“We try to hold many family-oriented events during the year to allow folks who might not plan on visiting a military museum enjoy what we have to offer,” says Paul Galloway, executive director of the Airborne & Special Operations Museum Foundation. “Children of all ages are educated in the history of the airborne and special operations soldier without even realizing they are learning.”

Experience the sights and sounds of war

From the first step inside the gallery, visitors are immersed in the sounds of war. Recordings of explosions and barked commands offer a stark contrast to the typical silence of many museums.

These sounds intensify as you walk through a section of a C-47 and listen above the engine drone to men in the 509th regiment – the first combat paratrooper regiment -as they prepare for the Army’s first parachute assault into North Africa.

While viewing a life-sized photo of a parachute battalion in full gear and helmets, you’ll hear the commander on tape walking the battalion through an equipment check and saying, “Go! Go! Go! Go!” as the men jump from the plane.

Kids will love the motion simulator, which shows them what it’s like to free fall from 10,000 feet. The tiered seats in the 24-seat platform theater move together to create a realistic experience.

Purchase tickets for the simulator for $5 and theater for $4 in the gift shop. A combination ticket is $8. Children younger than 8 are free when accompanied by an adult, and children less than 38 inches tall receive a half-price ticket for the simulator if their parents sign a waiver.

Discover amazing war stories and artifacts

Both adults and children jump back into time with paratroopers while examining the many artifacts on display and viewing real helicopters, tanks and weapons. Uniforms and equipment date from World War I to modern day.

The 5,000-square-foot, five-story high open lobby area features two fully deployed parachutes, one from World War II and the other a modern-day version. One of the most amazing displays is a completely restored WACO CG-4A glider, which had an 83-foot, 8-inch wingspan and was used extensively in World War II. There are only a few left in the world, and the museum’s glider is the finest remaining example.

Kids can hear war stories about young men such as John Steele, an American soldier from the 82nd Airborne whose parachute got caught on the village church steeple when he jumped into the town of Sainte-Mere-Elgise during the battle of Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Steele hung from the steeple for several hours pretending to be dead to avoid capture by the Germans, who eventually took him prisoner. He later escaped and received a Bronze Star for Valor and a Purple Heart for being wounded in combat.

The museum’s “hidden exhibit” is its volunteers, many of whom have experienced the action firsthand, Galloway says.  

Carol McGarrahan is a Triangle-based writer and editor.


Celebrate National Airborne Day

The Airborne & Special Operations Museum will celebrate National Airborne Day Aug. 18 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., marking the 72nd anniversary of the first sets of parachute jumps at Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga.

The celebration will include free-fall parachute demonstrations by the Golden Knights, the U.S. Army Special Operations Command Black Daggers and the 82nd Airborne Division’s All American Freefall Team. The 82nd Airborne Division “All American” Chorus will perform in the museum at 10:15 and 11 a.m., and displays of current XVIII Airborn Corps, 82nd Airborne Division and U.S. Army Special Operations Command equipment, as well as historic re-enactors, will be on the museum’s parade field and in the lobby and gallery until 3 p.m. Parachute riggers will also hold demonstrations throughout the day.

The Airborne & Special Operations Museum is located in downtown Fayetteville at 100 Bragg Blvd. and is part of the U.S. Army Museum System. It tells the story of the Army airborne and special operations units from 1940 to the present.


 The Airborne & Special Operations Museum offers family-oriented events throughout the year. Visit the museum’s site to learn more.


Where: The Airborne & Special Operations Museum is at 100 Bragg Blvd., Fayetteville, N.C.

Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m; Sundays, noon to 5 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays but open on all federal holiday Mondays. Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Easter.

Information:, 910-643-2766

Details: Groups are welcome. Administrators say many school groups visit throughout the year; groups should call in advance for information.

For a virtual visit, call the new Audio Cell Phone Tour at 910-216-3040 for information about eight different stops inside and outside the museum. The cell phone tour is designed for use at the museum, but you can access it from anywhere.

The museum gift shop sells military shirts, mugs, prints and jewelry as well as tickets to some museum exhibits.

This article was updated Aug. 1, 2012

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