The memory of the Yamato Colony and its last survivor live on in the graceful artwork and lush grounds of the Morikami Museum and Gardens in Delray Beach. Fewer than two dozen Japanese settlers, all bachelors, came at the turn of the century to then-sparse northern Boca Raton.
Although other areas greeted Asians with hostility, frontier Florida welcomed anyone willing to work the scrub and swamp. It could be cleared only by hand, amid miserable heat and omnipresent insects.
Within a couple of years, women had arrived, and soon the population was up to 50 and the colony had a post office and railroad station. But malaria, typhoid, pineapple blight and competition from Cuba conspired to kill the colony.
George Morikami had come for a three-year stint but his sponsor died and left him without return fare. Soon he began acquiring land and eventually owned 1,000 acres but lost almost everything in the Depression. In 1942, the government confiscated land for the Boca Raton Army Air Field.
Starting in 1974, Morikami eventually donated nearly 200 acres to Palm Beach County. In 1977, the 10-room Morikami Museum opened. It expanded in 1993 to 10 times the size of the first museum. Work on a new, $3.5 million Japanese Gardens is expected to be completed late this year. Morikami died in 1976.
Tags: Boca Raton Army Air Field, immigrants
Q: Were there any military bases in Palm Beach County during World War II?
A: America’s entry into World War II brought terror to South Florida; German U-Boats, unimpeded by an inadequate U.S. defense net, sank 24 ships, 16 of them from Cocoa Beach to Boca Raton between February and May 1942.
The Florida attacks killed hundreds of men and sent millions of dollars in cargo and oil to the bottom of the Atlantic. It also brought fear to civilians who worried about shells landing on their homes.
But it was also a boon to the state, still reeling from the real estate crash and The Depression. The number of military bases in Florida increased from eight in 1940 to 172 in 1943; the influx of soldiers who later returned to live increased Florida’s population from about 2 million in 1940 to nearly 3 million a decade later.
Boca Raton Army Air Field was a giant radar training base with more than 100 bombers and some 16,000 troops. After it was returned to the state, part became the Boca Raton Municipal Airport and the rest Florida Atlantic University; the college’s unusually wide parking lots are former runways.
A large portion of Palm Beach International Airport was Morrison Army Air Field; about 45,000 fliers trained at or left from the field, and about 6,000 planes passed through in the eight months before D-Day. The Breakers in Palm Beach became Ream General Hospital. Germans labored in sugar fields at prisoner-of-war camps in Belle Glade and across the county line in Clewiston.
And in southern Martin County, tens of thousands learned secret radar training at the Southern Signal Corps School at Camp Murphy; the land later became Jonathan Dickinson State Park. Further north, the Stuart and Fort Pierce municipal airports were used as military facilities, and the military established Hutchinson Island Navy Base and the Fort Pierce Amphibious Training Base.
Read more: War in Paradise by Eliot Kleinberg
Florida Historical Society: (321) 690-0099
Tags: Boca Raton Army Air Field, Camp Murphy, Morrison Field, World War II, WWII
WORLD WAR II was right off the shore of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast. Close enough to feel the heat and see the flames of ships being picked off night after night by the Third Reich’s Unterseeboots. South Floridians went to bed in fear every night, their windows and headlights blackened.
“We couldn’t go up on the oceanfront after dark,” remembers Bobby Riggs, who grew up in West Palm Beach. “I was sitting at The Hut (a hangout on Flagler Drive) one night and the whole sky lit up. The Germans had sunk a tanker off Palm Beach.”
Germans sank 16 ships between Cape Canaveral and Boca Raton between February and May of 1942.
Rationing was tough, recalls Riggs, who graduated from Palm Beach High School in 1943, but leaving for war was tougher. On graduation night, he and some friends went out to the Palm Beach Pier one last time and started to cry. Their carefree boyhood was over; in days, they’d be overseas.
For those who stayed home, memories are bittersweet. Canteens and U.S.O. clubs entertained the thousands of GIs stationed here. The intensity of war made even the simplest pleasures grand.
LOCAL HISTORY | 1941-1945:
DECEMBER 1941: Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge reassigned as wartime patrol station.
DEC. 7, 1941: Morrison Field Army Air Force Command activated.
1942-1945: Military bases and personnel fill Florida. Among them: Morrison Field (PBIA), Boca Raton Army Air Field (Boca Raton Airport/FAU), Camp Murphy (Jonathan Dickinson State Park), Hutchinson Island Navy Base, Fort Pierce Amphibious Training Base. The Stuart airport becomes a U.S. Navy base named for Paul Homer Witham, a Stuart man who was killed in action in 1942.
FEBRUARY-MAY 1942: German U-boats sink 16 ships between Cape Canaveral and Boca Raton. Local Coast Guard Reserve, headed by Gleason Stambaugh, aids in saving crew members from burning ships.
DEC. 11, 1942: The Breakers hotel becomes Army’s Ream General Hospital.
MAY 28, 1943: U.S. government builds St. Lucie County airport as a military base.
FEBRUARY 1944: Liberty Point prisoner-of-war camp for Germans opens near Clewiston. It closes in September 1945.
NOV. 30, 1944: Camp Murphy closes.
MARCH 1945: Belle Glade prisoner-of-war camp for Germans opens. It closes in December.
BY 1947: Most military sites returned to local governments.
Tags: Boca Raton Army Air Field, Camp Murphy, World War II, WWII
Posted in Our Century December 19, 1999 at 11:49 am. 1 comment