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World War II brought a wealth of bases to Florida

We’re continuing our military theme of the past few weeks. G. Paul Baker of suburban Lantana wrote May 10 to ask if we’ve written about the area’s military bases. Of course, we’ve described them extensively through the years. But it’s been a while, so let’s revisit a 2000 column:

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. They also brought fear to civilians who worried about shells landing on them.

But the attacks helped lead to a buildup that was 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 contributed to the increase in 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 about 16,000 troops. After it was returned to the state, part became Boca Raton Airport and the rest Florida Atlantic University; the school’s unusually wide parking lots are former runways.

A large part 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 worked in sugar fields at prisoner-of-war camps in Belle Glade and Clewiston. In southern Martin County, tens of thousands received secret radar training at the Southern Signal Corps School at Camp Murphy; the land later became Jonathan Dickinson State Park. Farther 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.

breakershosp1943
Patients are entertained on Nov. 26, 1943, at Ream General Hospital at the Breakers in Palm Beach. The resort was used as an Army hospital from December 1942 to mid-1944, according to the state Department of Veteran’s Affairs. (Palm Beach Post file photo)

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg and Flashback blog June 10, 2010 at 9:02 am.

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Landmarks Bear Names Worth Knowing

Here are the names behind some Treasure Coast landmarks:
Barley Barber (Barley Barber Swamp, Indiantown): Barber, a trapper, homesteaded the swamp in the early 1900s.
J.W. Corbett (J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area, Martin and Palm Beach county line): Corbett, of Fort Pierce, was a charter member of the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission in 1943 and chairman in 1948.
John G. and Susan H. DuPuis Jr. (DuPuis Reserve, western Palm Beach and Martin counties): The Miami-based dairy ranching family sold the land in 1986 for $23 million to the South Florida Water Management District with the stipulation it be kept natural.
Don Pedro Gilbert (Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge, Stuart): The reef off Hutchinson Island is named for a pirate who might have hidden in the St. Lucie Inlet between raids. He later was caught and was hanged in 1834.
Thomas B. Manuel (Thomas B. Manuel Bridge, at Florida’s Turnpike and St. Lucie Canal, Martin County): “Mr. Turnpike,” a Delray Beach farmer, Fort Lauderdale mayor and banking executive, persuaded state transportation officials to extend the turnpike to Miami instead of stopping at central
Martin County.
John Monahan (Big John Monahan Bridge, St. Lucie Canal and State Road 76, Indiantown): The Fort Lauderdale dry cleaner served on the state road board.
Col. William Herbert Murphy (Camp Murphy, now Jonathan Dickinson State Park, near Hobe Sound): The World War II training site was named for the Signal Corps officer and radio pioneer who died in battle Feb. 3, 1942.
Frank A. Wacha (Frank A. Wacha Bridge, also known as Jensen Beach Causeway): The longtime Martin County commissioner and commission chairman helped push for the bridge and causeways.

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg February 20, 2008 at 12:11 pm.

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World War II Brought Destruction, Death, Military Bases, Boon To Area

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

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg June 21, 2000 at 8:36 am.

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Shipwrecked Jonathan Dickinson Documented Early Indian Tribe

Q: Who’s Jonathan Dickinson?

A: The Quaker merchant and his family came ashore more than three centuries ago not far from the state park that bears his name.

During a business trip from his Jamaica plantation to Philadelphia, his barkentine Reformation went aground in a storm near Jupiter on Sept. 23, 1696. Dickinson – along with his wife, infant son, two associates and 10 slaves – made a grueling and perilous 230-mile trek by boat and on foot through the open ocean, swamps, beaches and jungle before arriving at St. Augustine.

Dickinson’s journal was intended to be a testament to God’s “deliverance.” It also has become an invaluable look at South Florida’s now vanished early Indian tribes. Camp Murphy, the training camp that spring up during World War II, was later turned over to the state to become a state park named for the man whose journal is the only comprehensive first-hand description of those lost people.

Read more: God’s Protecting Providence, Man’s Surest Help and Defence, by Jonathan Dickinson

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg April 5, 2000 at 9:08 am.

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The War Years- Local History 1941 – 1945

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.

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Posted in Our Century December 19, 1999 at 11:49 am.

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