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Greensboro's Forgotten And Now Mostly Hidden History As Military Base

A few physical traces still remain from the Army Air Force that open in 1943 and took up 652 sq. acres in east Greensboro.
This map shows the footprint of the Army Air Force base that opened in 1943 in East Greensboro.

GREENSBORO, NC -- One lonely metal highway sign just off East Wendover Avenue past the Highway 29 interchange. That's the only commemoration of a bit of history that made Greensboro unique during World War II. Greensboro was the only city to have a military base inside its city limits. The Army Air Force base took up 652 square acres. Two Wants to Know's Lechelle Yates reveals how you can still see a little bit of yesterday - today.

Just down from today's busy intersection of Summit Avenue and Bessemer Street, a 450 foot iron gate welcomed soldiers in 1943 - first to Basic Training Center # 10. Recruits grunted through boot camp before shipping off to war.

In 1944, Uncle Sam had trained all the men it needed for fighting, so the base's role and name changed to "Overseas Replacement Depot." ORD for short. It processed, reassigned and shipped out soldiers. When the war was over, Greensboro still had a job to do: Discharging soldiers.

Because of the base's unique location, soldier, civilian and town developed close connections.ID=8547839

Marvin Richardson was an MP at ORD. "Just picture this all these young boys coming here. They thought that when they came hear this was one of the most wonderful places. They said to me these things because everything is right here - that you can walk downtown. You can have family can come in."

Many families "took a soldier home to dinner," and more than 800 women played hostess at the city's USO clubs

At the war's end, a growing Greensboro began gobbling up the ORD. The gate came down and asphalt paved over the entrance. Today, you need a tour guide to see the connections.

Stephen Catlett literally wrote the book on Greensboro and the base. Underneath the corrugated metal and bricks, he can still point out the physical traces of the theatre and PX on Westside Street. And the few barracks that remain from the German POW section at Winston and Sullivan St.

Stephen says, "The barracks were just totally bare to the studs and then they had this green asphalt composition board as the cover."

The best preserved part of the former base, the warehouse district. Stephen says, "The thing about this warehouse area - it did fulfill some of the dreams to become an economic engine after the war. just over here a few hundred yards was Lollilard which located in part there because of these rail lines, these rail spurs and that was a huge, huge economic development for Greensboro."

Still, the few remnants are in danger. Former administration buildings sit on Headquarters Drive right off O'Henry and Wendover. Despite the wood shingles, they're condemned. Stephen says, "In the future, it will just be a street name."

Another bit of base history – actor and former NRA president Charlton Heston married his wife at a Greensboro church in 1944 while he has at ORD.

The wonderful photos and maps that accompany this story were provided by the Greensboro Historical Museum Archives and Carol W. Martin/Greensboro Historical Museum Collection. Be sure to take a free tour of the museum's Voices of Our City exhibit and see artifacts from the base including a metal bunk bed.

Stephen Catlett, who wrote the book Army Town and David Gwynn at the University Libraries of UNCG have put together a fantastic digital archive of photos, oral histories, letters and other wonderful resources. Explore here.

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