Downtown Fayetteville has transformed since the 1960's and 70's, when Hay Street was synonymous with seedy bars and strip clubs, but for thousands of soldiers who came through Fort Bragg on their way to the Vietnam War, memories of wild nights on Hay Street are indelible.
Back then, payday meant soldiers were handed an envelope full of cash and released to go into Fayetteville. That much money and a few hours of freedom proved too much temptation for some troops. Fred Black was a young lieutenant at Fort Bragg in 1968. He recalled serving as the company courtesy patrol officer on payday, tasked with retrieving soldiers.
"When the bars closed, you had troops all over the place, some of whom didn't know their own names if it wasn't for the name tag," said Black.
"Those who had overnight passes, you had another problem," said Black. "Many of them drank themselves to the point that they were out of it. And they got rolled."
Black remembers it wasn't uncommon for soldiers to have to visit local pawn shops to buy back their own boots.
Mary Ellen Shugart was a nurse in the ICU and recovery ward at Womack Army Hospital in 1966, though on busy weekend nights she found herself patching up soldiers in the emergency room.
"They would call and ask if someone could help down there, help with minor casualties, beer bottle cuts, lacerations to the head, that kind of thing," she recalled. "So, I know all about Fayettenam. I was here then."
The Ft. Bragg Stories series is a collaboration between the Fayetteville Observer and WUNC's American Homefront Project to commemorate a century of history at Fort Bragg through personal narratives. You can hear other stories in the series here. If you'd like to share your Fort Bragg story, you can send it here, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.