Do you know the history of Air Force Beach and how it got its name? I’ve been told the Army Air Force used the beach for R & R during WW II. Also, I was told that there is a possibility that it was used to practice beaching the Higgins Landing Craft prior to the various mainland invasions, primarily Normandy. It was used in a similar manner during the Vietnam War. Can you verify if any of this is true? — Dan Canavan, West Palm Beach
We asked Debi Murray, chief curator for the Historical Society of Palm Beach County:
“Air Force Beach became the U.S. Air Force beach when Morrison Field was reactivated during the Korean War. The Air Force had to have its own beach as the beaches were segregated then and they needed a beach where both blacks and whites could congregate. It was not U.S. Army Air Corps property during World War II.
“Although I haven’t been able to verify the location, I did see a photograph with a small corner of a coastal watch tower that was labeled as being on Singer Island. Camp Higgins was on the south side of the Lake Worth Inlet (northern Palm Beach island) and was manned by army personnel with 70mm cannons and tanks. So I’m sure the coastal watch tower would have been further north on Singer Island to cover that part of the shoreline.”
Here’s some more on “Air Force Beach” from a 2002 Post Time column:
Through the 1970s and into the 1980s, it was one of the largest nudist beaches in the nation. The ½-mile-long beach was owned by billionaire John D. MacArthur, a frequent skinny-dipper, and once drew hundreds of people a day, many of them without bathing suits, with the population rising dramatically during weekends and college spring breaks.
When the state bought the beach in 1982 and made it part of John D. MacArthur Beach State Park, the foundation that controlled MacArthur’s properties — he’d died in 1978 — recommended an area be set aside for clothing-optional use. The state refused.
The beach also has been listed as a popular destination on gay travel websites.
Toni Anne Wyner, covering herself with only a copy of the Bill of Rights, is led away by state park officers on July 14, 1990, at the ‘Air Force Beach’ area of John D. MacArthur Beach State Park. Wyner was charged with disorderly conduct after she led a protest against a law banning thong suits on state beaches.(Palm Beach Post file photo)
Possibly because nudists had scheduled a rally at Air Force Beach, park rangers armed with billy clubs were on patrol. The beach was one of the most popular nudist sites in the nation during the 1970s. (Palm Beach Post file photo)
The beach had not yet opened as a Palm Beach County Park when this aerial was shot in March 1981. Air Force Beach streched from the lower part of the photo north to just in front of the nearest condos at the top. (Palm beach Post staff file photo by Red Morgan)