Florida’s Military Role Boomed With World War II

In Honor Of America’s Soldiers: Past and Present

Prior to the start of World War II, there were just seven military installations in Florida.  The start of World War II changed all of that for Florida’s flat terrain and good weather made the state a key training ground for military aviation in both World Wars and military training took over the hotel industry in World War II.  By 1945 there were 120 military facilities in the State of Florida.

Florida was divided up with the Navy taking the East Coast and the Army taking the Gulf Coast.  However, existing bases like Pensacola Air Station and bases in Miami and Jacksonville were grandfathered in their original locations.

My father Marston S. Leonard was one of the hundreds of thousands of American and foreign soldiers who came to Florida for training.  While becoming at officer at Drew Field (Tampa), he met my mother: an entertainer whose band was decimated by the draft.  She was running shows for the troops; my father was in public relations in the Army Air Force.

floridatraveler Drew field

After four dates, they were wed and I was conceived at the now defunct Hyde Park Hotel at the entrance of the University of Tampa.  Ironically, everyone in my family was married in Tampa.  After all these years, I presently teach a few history classes just one-half mile from some of the Drew Park buildings where my father started his military career in 1942.

There are still 20 major military installations in Florida, including Central Command at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base, the headquarters of Middle East strategy and intelligence and where Desert Storm was organized.    Florida is #5 in US Dept of Defense contracts.   24,526 service people serve on seven air force bases, 23,223 in navy and marines on 7 naval bases, 4,757 coast guard personnel on 15 stations.  Some 2,982 army people are found on bases.  Counting the Florida National Guard there are 109,390 military people in Florida.   Ten percent of America’s retired military are living here.  There are 9 VA hospitals, 11 VA Outpatient Centers, and 9 military cemeteries.

floridatraveler _Tyndall_Field_Florida

Here are a few of the lesser known Florida spots honoring our military.

The Tureous Homestead and Museum – Altoona

There are dozens of WWII memorials in Florida, but none as unusual as this small museum located at 42118 FL 19 in Altoona, Florida.  The 1890’s cracker house was the boyhood hood of US Marine and Medal of Honor recipient Robert M. Tureous, Jr.  His story is not typical of most soldiers for he was classified 4F.  Young Robert personally financed two expensive and costly operations to change his draft status.  He died on Okinawa when he rescued his company from an entrenched Japanese garrison.  His grave is in the Glendale Cemetery in Umatilla but his personal effects and medals are here.

floridatraveler MacDill_Field

Florida National Cemetery – Webster

There are 1.5 veterans living in Florida requiring more military burial locations. In 1988 Florida’s largest National Cemetery opened fifty miles north of Tampa at Exit 62 on I-75 in the rolling hills of Sumter County. The impressive Memorial Trail escorts viewers to many commemorative monuments dedicated to individuals and units of World War II.  It is one of the nation’s most attractive military cemeteries.

NAS Richmond – South Miami

There were dozens of military bases in Florida, but only this massive naval station 19 miles southwest of Miami at 12400 SW 152nd Street was a blimp training center.  It was the largest blimp base in the world with three 16-story hangars.  On July 18, 1943, navy airship K-74 was shot down by Nazi U-131 off the Florida Straits. A 1945 hurricane wrecked the base, 25 blimps, and 365 aircraft.  Today, most of the land is the location of the Miami Metro Zoo, but Building 25, blimp headquarters, still stands as a reminder of the past.

Floridatraveler CAMP BLANDING

1606 Dr. Martin Luther King Drive Jr Drive, Pensacola

General Daniel “Chappie” James Jr. of Pensacola, Florida, was one of the famous Tuskegee Airman of World War II, but that was just the start of a long and illustrious career.  He became the first African-American four-star general in U.S. history and became head of NORAD in 1975.  There are a number of memorials honoring him, but none more compelling and unusual that that engraved on the concrete steps of the humble cottage at 1606 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.  The steps read “Chappie’s First Steps” honoring where the General took his first steps as a baby.

floridatraveler Buckingham_Army_Airfield

The Douglas Munro Memorial at Crystal River

Douglas Munro Memorial at 123 N. W. Highway 19 Crystal River City Hall was dedicated September 27, 1995.  This site honors the only member of the U.S. Coast Guard to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. Located in the Little Spring Memorial Park behind City Hall in Crystal River, this project came to be through the efforts of personnel at the USCG Station Yankeetown and members of the Crystal River Fraternal Order of Eagles.  Petty Officer Munro died September 27, 1942, while in charge of twenty-four Higgins Boats involved in the rescue of several hundred US Marines trapped by enemy fire on Guadalcanal.

Navy Seal Museum at Ft. Pierce

This museum of A1A at Fort Pierce Beach marks the birthplace of the secret world of Naval Special Warfare.  The National Navy UDT honors a group that has been in the news in the Middle East recently, but whose role in earlier wars is amazing.

God Bless America.

About floridatraveler

Historian and travel writer M. C. Bob Leonard makes the Sunshine State his home base. Besides serving as content editor for several textbook publishers and as an Emeritus college professor, he moderates the FHIC at www.floridahistory.org
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