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Airborne & Special Operations Museum celebrates two decades in Fayetteville, NC

“Iron Mike” stands ready and watchful in front of the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in downtown Fayetteville, N.C. (U.S. Air Force photo by Adam Luther, 440 AW/PA)

The Airborne & Special Operations Museum celebrated its 20th anniversary Sunday, but planning for the facility started 10 years earlier.

Retired Gen. James J. Lindsay, 87, has been one of the driving forces behind the museum. He said the first meeting to talk about the possibility of a museum focusing on airborne and special operations troops was held during the first week of August 1990. The museum opened Aug. 16, 2000.

The museum is currently closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but its foundation released a video marking the anniversary. The group said it also posted memorable moments from the museum on social media.

An average of 125,000 people, including Army training groups, school field trips and bus tours, visit the facility each year, according to a statement released by the foundation. The museum in downtown Fayetteville cost $22 million when it was built.

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“Numerous local donors, friends of the military, city of Fayetteville and Cumberland County were instrumental in helping the foundation begin this project,” the statement said.

Among those who played key roles, according to the statement, were David Jameson, former CEO of the Greater Fayetteville Chamber; the late Fritz Healy, chamber president; and the late Charlie Holt, former mayor of Fayetteville and a museum fundraiser.

The museum is now trying to raise $8.5 million to upgrade its technology. Lindsay said the initiative will let the facility make better use of its space.

The museum has artifacts that can’t be displayed because there’s not enough room.

“There’s so many things that need to be shown,” Lindsay said.

So far, about $3 million has been raised. Lindsay said he hopes the rest can be raised in the next few years.

“We’re working hard,” he said. “I think we’re going to make it.”

During the last fiscal year, more than 139,000 people visited the museum, according to the foundation. More than half were from North Carolina, with 21% from out of state and 12.8% from foreign countries, it said.

In late October, an exhibit commemorating the 77th anniversary of D-Day is scheduled to open at the museum. The exhibit from France, which will run through June, uses augmented reality technology that is being considered for the museum’s gallery renovation, the statement said.

Lindsay said he was helping raise money for the 82nd Airborne Division’s museum when someone mentioned the need for a facility to honor airborne and special operations soldiers. Lindsay has a strong background in both areas, having served as commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, the 82nd Airborne Division and 18th Airborne Corps.

When he mentioned the possibility of such a museum to Army officials at Fort Bragg, they liked the idea. The museum initially was going to be built on post and a groundbreaking was held, but fundraising went “belly up,” Lindsay said.

Lindsay said that when he called friends in the Fayetteville community, they embraced the museum concept.

“They ran with the ball from there,” he said. “There were a lot of people who really worked on this.”

When prospects of the Airborne & Special Operations Museum were in the early stages, Lindsay hoped to preserve World War II-era buildings on Fort Bragg. He said he still hopes money can be raised to move a chapel, mess hall and barracks from the post to the North Carolina Veterans Park near the museum.

Lindsay said he credits local leaders for putting the museum near Hay Street, where it helped transform a rough section of downtown.

“That wasn’t me,” he said. “It was the leadership of Fayetteville.”

The museum also has helped the connection between Fort Bragg and the local area, which Lindsay said is as good as he’s seen it.

“I think it really cemented the relationship between the Army and the community,” he said.

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© 2020 The Fayetteville Observer