Uncovering the history of Camp Mackall

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Uncovering the history of Camp Mackall

The story of Camp Mackall is one of parachutists before the Army used airborne soldiers, of German prisoners of war and of Special Forces soldiers training for secretive missions.

It’s a story not easy to uncover, because old buildings at Camp Mackall have been razed, records have been destroyed and the veterans who served there are scattered around the country.
Still, the Army Special Operations Command history office is trying.

Since September, historian Gene Piasecki, of the USASOC history office, has been collecting documents, photographs and maps and interviewing veterans who passed through the land that is Camp Mackall.
He is planning to write a book about his findings, a comprehensive history of Camp Mackall, where he believes the Special Forces got its start.

Here is part of what he’s found so far:
Construction on Camp Mackall — originally named “Camp Hoffman,” for the Hoffman area around which it was built — started in 1942 and finished in 1943. In the beginning, it covered about 97,000 acres. When construction was completed, it included 1,750 buildings, 65 miles of paved roads and 874,559 feet of electric lines. It also included six drill fields, 16 post exchanges, six open-air beer gardens and five movie theaters.
Foundations for the post finance vault and the vault for a civilian bank still exist on Camp Mackall today.
Camp Hoffman became Camp Mackall in 1943, in honor of Pvt. John T. Mackall, the first U.S. paratrooper killed in action in North Africa. The camp started with more than 32,000 soldiers from the 11th, 13th and 17th Airborne Divisions, the Airborne Training Center, 542nd Parachute Infantry Regiment and the Airborne Command Headquarters.

Piasecki said it was the first, and he believes only, time all the Army’s airborne divisions were at the same place.

In December of 1944, 249 German prisoners of war were housed in barracks at Camp Mackall. Piasecki said he hasn’t been able to find records about those POWs.
Inactivated in 1945

In 1945, the Army inactivated Camp Mackall, and in 1948, the Army returned a large portion of the land that had been part of the camp to the federal Department of the Interior. The Department of Defense still controlled about 65,000 acres.

Since 1953, the camp has been used mainly by special operations forces. During Vietnam, Piasecki said, the camp built a model Vietnamese village to help soldiers train for the Vietnam War.
Since then, soldiers from the 82nd, 101st and 11th Airborne divisions have trained at Camp Mackall.
Piasecki said he has heard from several veterans who trained there over the years but is especially interested in talking to veterans who ran the Special Forces Qualification Course there during the Vietnam War.

“They know things that guys like me could look through every book and magazine and never be able to find,” he said.

It is those vignettes and stories from men who were there who will make the history book more true-to-life, he said.

“Veterans give you a perspective on life and a perspective of training and a perspective of what’s important and what’s not important,” Piasecki said. “That’s what we’re trying to capture.”
Piasecki is still looking for veterans — especially Vietnam-era Special Forces veterans — who trained or worked at Camp Mackall. Contact him at eugene.g.piasecki@soc.mil or at (910) 432-4320.
Staff writer Laura Arenschield can be reached at arenschieldl@fayobserver.com or 486-3572.

Great post, Boon. I knew about the three Abn Divs that were trained there, but that's about it. I did my very first AJ duty into the DZ there. I remember finding my time refs with the airfield and thinking, "Wow, this is cool! It looks just like the map and works just like the blackhats said it would..." Then my PJ hollered at me and asked if I'd like to join everyone else on the jump.......so I came back inside the acft and gave the "thumbs up." :doh: