Clay County Got Jump on World War II
McTammany, Mary Jo, The Florida Times Union
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
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
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