GREENSBORO N.C. — A historical marker commemorating one of the most important eras in Greensboro’s history stands near the intersection of Summit and East Bessemer avenues. It reads “Greensboro O.R.D.”
Detailing Greensboro’s World War II training camp, the marker is surrounded by acres of remnants built for the base. If you don’t know what to look for, much of the area looks relatively standard. In reality, the stories behind the buildings are in themselves extraordinary.
“If you drive around the Bessemer area, you’ll see that history every single day,” said Billy Ingram, writer/producer, and O.Henry Magazine contributor.
On March 1, 1943, the Army Air Force opened Basic Training Center No. 10 after Greensboro was awarded the base the previous year. Built on 652 acres, what became known as the Overseas Replacement Depot was briefly home to more than 330,000 soldiers.
“You had, gosh, I think 30,000 people that worked on the base, most of which were women, because the men were being shipped overseas,” Ingram said.
Trainees learned how to fly aircrafts, parachute and engage in combat in preparation for the war.
“The United States knew if we were going to win World War II, that was going to happen in the skies,” Ingram said.
In those months, thousands of soldiers flooded the city’s restaurants and hotels.
“This may have been the biggest city they’d ever seen,” Ingram said.
As the war progressed, the ORD also housed German POWs. The Greensboro Public Library says more then 300 German prisoners of war were kept near what is now English Street.
“During the day, those POWs would go to work on local farms a lot of times with no supervision,” Ingram said. “They were on the honor system.”
Early on, Ingram says, it was thought that the United States could win the war within five years. Yet after slightly more than two years, the ORD was designated as a redistribution station responsible for returning soldiers back to the States.
“Had Greensboro’s war effort not happened, the United States of America would have lost World War II,” Ingram said.
When the ORD was closed the following year, the warehouses were left empty. Local entrepreneurs capitalized on the cheap space, causing yet another economic boom.
“A lot of the people didn’t have really anywhere to go and just decided to stay in Greensboro,” Ingram said. .
The veterans deciding to stay in the area resulted in an injection of highly skilled workers into the city’s economy in addition to overwhelming its housing market.
“There’s a very good chance that had ORD not existed, we would be Reidsville right now…it was tremendous,” Ingram said.
Today, many of the buildings have been repurposed for modern-day business. Even the field North Carolina A&T State University’s football team practices and plays on used to be the grounds for a different kind of battle training.
“When they were building some new buildings in the 1950’s on A&T, they uncovered thousands and thousands of spent bullets,” Ingram said.
Although the buildings and train tracks which were used to transport troops to the training facility are still there, it’s Ingram’s belief that many of the people who work and live there know very little about the hallowed grounds. Still, its history is well-documented through photographs and artifacts kept online and at the Greensboro History Museum.
To those familiar with the story, it’s a reminder of how the United States, and people of Greensboro, banded together to combat a common enemy.
“I think it’s important to remember just so we can have this sort of civic pride here in Greensboro,” Ingram said. “That we really made a difference.”