World War II exhibit opens at Beach museum

The Beaches Museum & History Center is hosting a traveling exhibition, "Florida in World War II," on loan from the Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee through Jan. 12, 2008.

The exhibit includes items such as life on the home front, military training, the German U-boat threat, and Floridians in military service.

Visitors to the museum will have an opportunity to learn about Florida’s contributions to the war effort and the lasting impact that the war had on the state, according to museum director Holly Beasley.

"Few Floridians – even then – could have imagined it either. The war stimulated economic development and led to a postwar population surge," Beasley said, explaining the importance of the exhibit. "The United States’ involvement in World War II set into motion forces that would dramatically change both Florida and the nation. With these rapid changes, the war moved Florida from a sleepy, southern state and into the modern age.

There were 172 military camps, air stations, bases, etc, in the state of Florida by the middle of the war and nearby Camp Blanding became Florida’s fourth largest “city” and the state’s largest Army infantry training camp. About 248,000 Floridians served in the armed forces, with over 4,600 of them losing their lives during the war.

The exhibit also includes information on the German U-boat attacks that native beach dwellers still talk about. In April 1942, U-boat number 123 torpedoed the SS Gulfamerica off the coast of Jacksonville Beach – close enough to shore for residents to see from the end of a pier. Attacks like this caused then Gov. Holland to order coastal blackouts.

"World War II made an impact on Florida in so many ways. Visit the exhibition to find out much more about our role in the military, on the home front, and what happened to Florida after the war," Beasley said.

These Nine, a local component to the exhibition, hangs in the lobby of the museum. The exhibit features nine local men who lost their lives in military service during World War II and provides a photograph of each along with some additional information for most. The nine are Navy Lt. (junior grade) Richard Bull; Army 2nd Lt. John J. Ahern Jr.; Army Pfc. Ivan R. Wellington; Army Pvt. Kenjiro Yoshida; Marine Corps Cpl. Ottis O. Boxx; Marine Corps Pvt. Asbury R. Kelly; Army Lt. John W. Deam; Navy Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Charles Byron Mann; and Army Staff Sgt. Robert B. David.

"The museum is indebted to Johnny Woodhouse, associate editor at The Leader, for providing the text and many of the images for the exhibition," Beasley said. "By way of a long-time interest in military history as well as local history, Mr. Woodhouse collected the photographs, contacted family members, and did painstaking research to provide the nucleus of this exhibition."

Family members and friends of the war heroes listed above who have information regarding their war service or life here at the beach, are asked to contact the museum at 241-5657.

And, in honor of Pearl Harbor Day, the museum will host a lecture on Dec. 6 at 6:30 p.m. by Dr. Michael Gannon, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Florida and author of numerous books, several of which will be available for purchase and signing after the lecture.

For the duration of the exhibition, the Beaches Museum will offer discount admission ($1 off regular) to all military personnel and family members with IDs.

The Beaches Museum and History Center is located at 380 Pablo Avenue in Jacksonville Beach. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 4:30 pm. For more information call 241-5657 ext. 100.

“These Nine Beaches area servicemen who gave their lives for their country during World War II were but a drop in a vast sea of American war dead. They hailed from Mayport, Palm Valley, Jacksonville Beach and Atlantic Beach. They represented all four major branches of the U.S. military…They were pilots, paratroopers, infantrymen and Marines between the ages of 19 and 34. They ranged in rank from lowly privates to rising lieutenants… As a group, These Nine were recipients of almost every major decoration for valor short of the Congressional Medal of Honor. Their deaths were both heroic and tragic. Their passing devastating to the families they left behind. These Nine were but a few of the more than 400,000 Americans who died in the war, but they were special to us because they were our own.”

— Excerpt from These Nine text by Johnny Woodhouse