Clay County Got Jump on World War II

Article excerpt

Some old-timers say that in the days before the United States

entered World War II, military history was made in Clay County.

They say that the gods of war conspired in the sandy palmetto

scrub out near the old Camphor Farm and the future was cast for

the victory of the Allied Forces.

By 1940, Clay County had been invaded, occupied and almost

surrounded by forces of the United States government in

preparation for war with the Axis powers. The Navy was in place

just north in Duval County with two large facilities, and the

auxiliary air station southeast of Green Cove Springs was

growing rapidly.

But it was the Army, considering the vast acreage purchased in

the southwestern quadrant of the county (including Camphor

Farm), that had the greatest presence and impact on day-to-day

life.

By October 1942, the United States was fully engaged in war.

The battle rattle emanating from strategists at the newly

completed Pentagon in Washington, D.C., was deafening. Camp

Blanding was selected as a secret training site for a new U.S.

military specialist -- the paratrooper. Men were going to jump

out of perfectly good airplanes. A remarkable thought

considering most people in those days wouldn't get into an

airplane in the first place.

Clay County residents went about their daily lives figuring out

rationing books, collecting scrap metal, listening to scratchy

vacuum tube radio broadcasts of the war news and worrying about

their sons and neighbors already at some front.

At Camp Blanding, 6,000 new recruits, all volunteer, arrived to

begin a new, rigorously scientific screening process to

determine the 2,600 enlisted men who would serve in the newly

created 508 Parachute Infantry Regiment. Officers and senior

enlisted men were hand-picked from National Guard units in

Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Former Boy Scouts and rural farm boys seemed to be the best

suited. Scouting acquainted young men with the outdoors and

basic skills of building a fire or shelter and finding food.

Many rural farm boys had lived their entire lives close to the

edge of survival and were accustomed since childhood to pulling

more than their own weight.

Parachuting was in its infancy but seen as a critical

requirement of the Allies' strategy. Paratroops were to drop

behind enemy lines and cut off supplies, reinforcement and

communication. …