By Alyson Hansen
Sometime during the late 1930s, the U.S. War Department decided that Fort Bragg would become the largest military installation in the United States. They began their planning slowly, deciding that by the end of the 40s, the fort would be fully expanded to the size they envisioned.
Their plans were put into hyper drive on Sept. 1, 1939.
Before the start of World War II, the population of Fort Bragg was slowly expanding. New buildings were built throughout the 1930s.
Fort Bragg felt very little decline from the Great Depression, but it was a difficult time across the United States. To top it off, rumors that all was not well on the European continent had begun to reach the ears of American citizens.
World War II: the beginning
Germans largely felt they received a raw deal at the end of World War I with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. Losing the land of Alsace Lorraine to France created unfriendly feelings between the Germans and the French.
The Germans were also under orders not to build any sort of war machines, an order which was ignored largely throughout the 1930s during the rise of Nazism and nationalism.
Once Hitler was “elected,” he quickly maneuvered his way into the Chancellorship, and from that position of power, Europe became his chess board.
But it was Hitler’s invasion of Poland that truly began the war in Europe.
On Sept. 1, 1939, Hitler seized control of Poland. France and Great Britain declared war two days later. Italy and Japan allied themselves with Germany, creating the Axis.
Russia briefly joined forces with Germany in an attempt to stop an invasion, but later fought against the Germans when
Hitler showed he was not against taking Russian land.
Conspicuously, the United States stayed out of the conflict. By the summer of 1940, Hitler had conquered most of Europe. Great Britain was the sole survivor of the Blitzkrieg, and their time was drawing short.
The Draft
The United States believed in isolationism during the beginning of the conflicts in Europe and Asia. It wasn’t until Hitler’s complete takeover in 1940 that the government really began to understand that the U.S. couldn’t possibly stay out of the war much longer.
On Sept. 6, 1940, the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 was passed, requiring all males between the ages of 21 and 45 to sign up for a draft. Those whose lottery numbers were picked were required to serve for one year. This was the first peacetime draft in U.S. history, and it began a population influx into Fort Bragg that would continue throughout World War II.
North Carolina was an ideal place for training due to the climate. Soon several other military camps were set up around the state, creating an economic push to the much-depressed economy.
Workers were coming from hundreds of miles away to help work on Camp LeJeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina and Laurinburg-Maxton Army Airfield in Laurinburg, North Carolina. Nine total military forts, airfields and bases were built in North Carolina during this time. Tents lined roadways as workers moved to where the work was located.
In 1940, the population of Fort Bragg was 5,400. By the summer of 1942, the population was 92,000. Around 159,000 Soldiers would call Fort Bragg home before the war was finished.
In 1940, Fort Bragg had 376 various buildings. By June 1941, 3,135 buildings had been built at Bragg, and Fayetteville became the third largest city by population in North Carolina, seemingly overnight.
Over 28,000 workers had poured into the area, completing buildings at the rate of one every 32 minutes. Sixty-five cartloads of building materials came into the community every day on the railway system.
Pearl Harbor and its effects
On Dec. 8, 1941, the Japanese attacked the U.S. Naval Base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii territory at 7:48 a.m. Hawaii time. Over the next seven hours, the Japanese led coordinated attacks throughout the pacific, sending out bombers and submarines in an attempt to destroy the American Naval fleet.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on the Japanese on Dec. 8, 1941. Congress agreed. Four days later, they declared war on Germany and the Axis. The U.S. was once again at war.
Throughout World War II, the 9th Infantry Division, 2nd Armored Division, 100th Infantry Division and 82nd Division all trained at Fort Bragg before being sent to the European Theater, increasing the local population
In 1942, the 82nd Div. was designated as the first Airborne division in the United States Army. Four other airborne divisions would be designated throughout the war, and all five would train at Fort Bragg. The 82nd Airborne Division would eventually find a permanent home at Bragg in 1948.
The goal to make Fort Bragg the largest military installation in the United States was realized because of the War. North Carolina, and Fort Bragg in particular, became an integral part of training troops for war in Europe and the Pacific, and it was largely because of the infrastructure at Fort Bragg — and soon-to-be-built Camp Mackall — that Airborne offensives became such a success throughout the War.