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On Sunday, December 7, 1941, as I was riding down First Street South in Jacksonville Beach, the news came over my radio . . . "The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor!" It struck me hard but not nearly so hard as it did later when we finally found out what war was all about—first hand. It was hard to believe that was happening to us. We had always had so much confidence in our Navy. History records that one battleship almost wiped out the Spanish Navy before breakfast, and here we were with much of our Navy wiped out in one stroke. That was many thousands of miles away and we were not as concerned as we might have been if it had been closer to our home.

    We were awakened one night some time later by a terrible blast. As we looked out to sea, a submarine surfaced and began shelling the tanker it had torpedoed with tracer shells. I believe we counted seventeen tracers. There was nothing between us and the submarine but a very few miles of water and a well-lighted pier where the city firemen were having a ball. The firemen worked harder at putting out those lights than they ever had at putting out afire. There was a small contingent of planes at Imeson Airport and people put up a clamor to get them here to bomb the submarine. But of course, the sub was long gone before they could even crank up a plane. The whole truth was that we were woefully ill-prepared for what we had been pushed into. That was a Standard Oil tanker and it is still out there. For a long time part of the ship was above water level, but I am not sure about that now.

    For years I had been told that Townsend Hawkes and another man had taken a lifeboat and rowed out to the stricken tanker. No one seemed to be sure of anything so I asked Townsend and here is his story:

When the tanker was torpedoed we figured there would be survivors and they would need help, so another man (I don't remember his name) and I got a boat from the Life Guard Station and headed for the stricken ship. There was a west wind blowing and it was easy getting to the tanker. In fact it was so easy that we were close enough to hear the submarine as it blew its tanks to submerge. As we neared the tanker, fire was all over the ocean from burning oil, and with such a stiff wind at our backs, we had all that we could do to keep from going into the fire. We pulled until my partner gave out and said he could not row any more. I just pointed to the fire and he got renewed energy in a hurry. We were pulling for our lives when a boat came up. We thought it might be the sub returning, so we stayed as quiet as possible. Finally, an American voice asked what we were doing out there. It was the Coast Guard. We told them we were out there to rescue somebody. Their reply was that it looked like we were the ones needing rescuing, and with that we thoroughly agreed, and were real happy when they took us on board and tied our life-boat onto the stern of their ship. Both my buddy and I were lying on the deck of the Coast Guard ship, completely exhausted. There were several men lying all around us, apparently in the same shape we were in. When I finally got my breath I started asking questions, but no one would talk, until someone below deck told me those men can't talk; they are dead.

    Townsend said there were about 90 people (including the gun crew) on the tanker, and about twenty five of them were lost. Bodies floated into the beach for several days. "We were taken to Mayport, and since both of us were in our underwear, the Navy (with some prodding from the Marines) brought us home in an automobile."

    For days, debris came floating in as other ships were torpedoed. I can remember going onto the beach and finding a refrigerator with a jar of mayonnaise in it, and a dish towel hung on the door. Wonder if the cook deserted ship with his arms full of food or did the door just happen to come open and most of its contents spill out? I heard one merchant marine sailor say they put a bag of Irish potatoes on their life boat and that the mate did not like that. It would be my guess that this was a bad time to pick an argument with a bunch of scared sailors.

    Then the lights went out all along the beaches. Every house was required to have blackout shades, and the automobiles were driven with only their parking lights. That driving business was fixed pretty soon with gas rationing, and you were never supposed to go over forty miles an hour in the day time. Guess most of us have a little Boy Scout or adventuresome streak in us, for it was no trouble to get volunteers to check on the lights and patrol the streets at night. I never did, but many of the men seemed to relish the idea of adventure and spent much time patrolling the beaches. It gave them an opportunity to break out their guns for a legitimate reason.

    There were many vacancies here during the war due to many reasons. First, it was difficult to get enough gas to travel very much, and that old prosperity that was going to round the corner on two wheels was slow getting here, and also, it was just plain spooky with no lights showing anywhere. Could be the thought of a shelling or invasion entered into the minds of some people. On top of all this we were on an island with one bridge and when that went, we stayed.

    We had two army camps here, one at Jacksonville Beach and one at Atlantic Beach. One camp manned what looked to be a pair of thirty caliber machine guns, on the corner of Third Street and Seventh Avenue North, about as effective as trying to stop a bull with a BB gun. Most of the men in this battery were from Maine and they were certainly a nice bunch of men. Many of them went to the Methodist Church, and it was a strange sight to see a soldier kneeling to take the Sacrament with his .45 pistol strapped on his side. Made you think of the old Puritans as they carried their muskets to church for protection from the Indians, I'll say this about the war; it made you think deeper than you had been accustomed to, and to realize that if there were no higher power, then we had gotten ourselves into a mess way over our heads.

    The shelves in our stores began to get bare, and many things that you needed were on the rationing list. With nothing else to do with their money, many people began paying their debts. It was a strange feeling, money in the bank, very little stock in the stores, and people clamoring to buy what little we had. Could give a merchant a superiority complex until he tried to buy sugar, coffee or meat. Even with food stamps you found shelves were empty too. One lady solved the hoarding problem very nicely. She took her stamps and bought all of the coffee that she could get before the hoarders got there. She also must have gotten a lot of gall for she tried to bring the coffee back for credit after the war.

    During the war, there was an Italian merchant ship anchored in the St. Johns River just above the Acosta bridge and it made you wonder about the ship and its crew. Many of the shrimpers told me that, quite often, while visiting the ship they would hear something dropping into the river and wondered what it was until they found out. The Italian seamen were sabotaging their ship piece by piece and throwing the pieces into the river! They did a good (or bad) job and there was very little left of the ship when the war was over. One of the last things to go was the ship's cat. She was brought to Mayport where she had a terrible time communicating with people since she mostly spoke Italian. I have a cat of my own, and I have always suspected that a cat was smarter than people, and now I'm sure. This cat immediately began conversations with some of the fine young toms around Mayport and it was not long until she had a family of her own. They were probably bilingual!

    During the war we had some coughing gas come from somewhere and people all over the beach were having coughing spells. Never did know what it was, but will be just as happy if it never returns. We had no hospital here at that time and only one doctor, Earl Roberts. Come to think of it, maybe it was a dangerous place to live.

    We were asked to send some cement to Seminole Beach where they had installed a disappearing cannon. Nobody told our driver about this cannon, and about the time he got there, the artillery man took it upon himself to raise the cannon for a shot to sea. He came very close to having to unload the cement and bring the truck back home, for the driver had visions of a more peaceful location and was about to go hunting that location without being impeded by a truck.

    We had civilian plane spotters on duty around the clock, but so far as I know, there was never a foreign plane spotted. This was before the days of long range bombers, and Captain Doolittle had to take off from a ship to make his token retaliation on the Japanese nation. Always wondered about that trip but never really knew. Guess that secret is locked up with the Civil War secrets, and possibly the Revolutionary War secrets, marked "Top Secret."

    The war was rough on people who were not born in this country; unnecessarily so, I thought at times. My wife was on the bus for Jacksonville when it was stopped at the canal bridge and an inspector came on board to question everyone as to where they were born. One gentleman who had been here for years, and was a good friend of ours, but not an accomplished linguist, had to admit that he was from some other country. He was about to be put off when my wife spoke up and said that she had known the man for years. That settled it, but how could you expect a man who spoke broken English to be an accomplished spy? Suppose it was like the gentleman of Grecian heritage who said that he could not understand why he had been here for twenty years and still did not speak good English, when that man from Georgia had been here only six months and spoke good. (Maybe he was thinking of Georgia, Russia, the birthplace of Stalin; the man of steel, until he rusted away.)

    It has been well said that when a nation stops singing, it is in trouble and I can remember no song from the World War 11 that has retained its popularity. About the only songs that I do remember are "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition" and "I'll be gone a year, little dear." The reason I remember the latter song so vividly is because we were vacationing in a little shack in the mountains and there was a little store and eating place just below us on the creek that had a jook organ. Those mountain boys and girls gathered there and went through the gyrations of dancing to the tune of this song. You could easily tell that they expected to be gone a full year. I can't remember any song that came out of our two last confrontations, but then I'm not "hep" about music. It took me two years to learn the bugle calls in military school, and I never did learn the one they called "retreat." Guess I had read too much about John Paul Jones and his ship.

    One man says he was the only man who ever crossed the Atlantic by rail. He was standing and holding onto it all the way. I think that is a slight exaggeration for he came back home with a pocket full of money made from matching his skill at rolling snake eyes. Most of the devotees that I know have been rolling the ivories were doing that from a position flat on their prayer bones.

    We were heading toward Mayport and were about a mile away when we saw a trainer plane, flying at an altitude of about a thousand feet, suddenly head straight down with full power. The plane went into the river and that was the biggest splash ever seen around Mayport. The rescue boats came out as soon as possible but there was nothing anyone could do to help the pilot. It probably was the first and last solo for the pilot. He no doubt panicked with his hands on the throttle. It was certainly not a pleasant sight.

    It is amazing how little robbing and breaking and entering we were troubled with during the war. There were several reasons for this. First, everybody knew what belonged to him and what did not belong to him, and anybody who had anything at all had worked hard to get it. The people on this beach during the war were tough minded and would not have taken kindly to a thief. Secondly, how were you going to tell if anyone was home when every curtain everywhere was drawn? The last man in the world to tackle is a scared man, especially if he has a gun. The little community of Wonderwood had been a train stop during the operation of the Florida East Coast Railway between Jacksonville Beach and Mayport. The J & MP railway had also served this community before it was discontinued in 1895 so, at one time, this was a fairly well-known place. It was a summer resort with people commuting between there and Jacksonville until a storm washed many of the homes into the bay because there was no bulkhead to protect them.

    Our first trip to Wonderwood was a thoroughly enjoyable affair. We came by car (if you could call a Model T a car) and there was a long winding dirt road from Atlantic Boulevard to the edge of the hammock where the old Spanish trail started. It was like going through a tunnel; big live oaks everywhere with their branches entwining overhead, and all of the trees covered by Spanish moss. The trail was winding because taking out a live oak tree in those days before bulldozers was a job not to be undertaken lightly. It was easier to dodge than to dig, and besides no one was in a hurry. Take it back; one car load of musicians who were filled with shine were in a hurry. For a year or two you could see the mark on the live oak tree where they hit at high speed, but now I can't even spot the tree that was hit. It is difficult to tell the difference between a live oak and a water oak, but the difference is there as you will find when you use wood from either of these species.

    Alongside this trail were the railroad tracks and rows of section houses where the people who repaired the tracks lived. Around every section house were fig trees. Some houses had citrus trees but this was really fig country. I still miss them. After the track was abandoned in 1932, the houses were not kept up and slowly everything went to pieces.

    There was one store in Wonderwood and one garage; as well as a tea room and a thousand foot pier running out into Ribault Bay. To get to the pier, you had to go through a veritable forest of oleanders of every color. This was a beautiful drive. There were accommodations for cook-outs and you could clean and cook your catch there. Made for a nice day, especially if you had a good catch.

    The road on into Mayport was flanked by houses and the Catholic church on one side while the lighthouse, which still stands, was on the other side. There was an alternate drive around Ribault Bay where there were several very well kept homes.

    Mrs. Sarah Leake had a home and garden about where the train stop was in Wonderwood and it showed what loving care can do for a place. She raised figs, scuppernongs and black grapes, cultivated persimmons, pears, plums, citrus and most everything else she could get to grow. She sold this produce to augment their income, and never was a place more tenderly cared for. It was a pleasure to walk through her garden and talk to this old lady who never seemed to complain.

    I'm not sure as to when negotiations began, but in 1940, the Navy began taking over the property. Some people were pleased because they thought they would get more than their homes were worth while others definitely did not want to move. With the right of condemnation against them there was nothing anyone could do but sell. The only thing they had to worry about was how much could they get.

    Mrs. Elizabeth Starke had owned much of the land since 1914 and she definitely did not want to sell. Hard to fault the lady for this. Mrs. Starke had some one hundred seventy-five acres bordering Ribault Bay with a pier that was making money, a tea room, about which I am not sure, and plenty of barns all under a canopy of live oak trees. She also had a big artesian well so there was no shortage of water. This place was the fulfillment of a dream to her and who could ask for more.

    Jack Starke, the husband of Mrs. Elizabeth Starke, was a diabetic and both of his legs had been removed almost to his hips, but he never quit trying. He made a "dolly" with four wheels and still helped to keep the yard. Someone said that he had been a prize fighter before they were married, and with his determination I don't see how he ever lost.

    After the legal battles were settled the Marines came in to take over, a whole squad of them, eight in number. Mrs. Starke had no intention of leaving as long as she could possibly stay, but her time was up. It happened that our nephew, Howard Brewer, was one of the Marines stationed there. He told us of having cooked breakfast for Mrs. Starke on her last day there. I know it was good for he could really cook.

    Then came the fireworks — draglines, bulldozers, dredges and workmen for most every kind of work. Ribault Bay, which had been only a few feet deep, was dredged to some forty-two feet, and there went our oyster beds. Prosperity had hit the little town and, of course, it began to grow as much as it was allowed to build with priorities on most everything.

    It was amazing how much history was uncovered when the bulldozers started digging in. Skeletons were found and this not surprising in as much as the Timucuan Indians had lived there for generations, the remains of an old blacksmith shop, and many relics of the past. It was reported that the original Ribault Monument was left to the safe keeping of Satouriba, the Indian Chief, and he buried it in the sand, never to be found again. There is a street in the Naval Base named after Satouriba.

    There is one old scoundrel who would never recognize his former haunts—Black Beard, the pirate who operated around this section for some time until he finally went into politics. He made an agreement with Governor Charles Eden of North Carolina to share his spoils with the government. The U.S. government was having no part of this and sent out a young naval officer, Robert Maynard, to catch and arrest Teach. Edward Teach, or Black Beard, and Maynard went together in a fierce hand-to-hand fight with Maynard the winner. People were not nearly so squeamish then, so Maynard nailed Black Beard's head to the prow of his ship as proof that the pirate was dead. They played rough in those days. The road department has named a ferry that runs from Mayport to Fort George in honor (?) of Black Beard. Try riding the ferry and let your imagination have full sway.

    Getting ready for the Navy was a feverish business with much work going on around the clock. One dredge was running full force with a bulldozer shifting the sand so that it would not pile up too much when the dozer got stuck and frantic efforts were made to get the dredge stopped before it covered up the dozer. The dredge would not stop, said that all of that water coming back would have sunk him, so the dozer was covered up, minus the driver, and had to be dug out later. It is amazing how much sand and water comes through the big pipe on a dredge. A big part of Mayport is on filled land, and all of the runways are on sand from the bottom of the river.

    All of this frenzied activity paid off, for it was not too long before ships began coming into the Mayport Base. Then came the carriers, with their thousands of men; many of them married and looking for a place to move their families. The Navy built a large group of houses and private enterprise built more, but it seems there are never enough houses to adequately house the Navy. Once the Navy started here, it has since made several more acquisitions of land and seems to be somewhat like the camel who got his nose in the tent. It is interesting to note that the Wonderwood Baptist Church which was acquired by the Navy is now the office for security police, and they have been able to use other buildings so it was not all wasted.

    The Navy, with its thousands of men, has contributed greatly to the sound growth of this community. Many of them have married local girls and settled here after they were out of service. Some of them leave for a while, but it is not unusual to find them moving back after they have had a try somewhere else. Suppose it is like the old saying "You can get a boy out of the country, but you can't get the country out of the boy." Many of these girls know a good thing when they see it and mean to live here. There might have been a clannishness among the natives some years ago but I don't believe that prevails now.

    At present, 1973, the Navy has moved much of its boundary line to the Wonderwood Road, the right of way for the old J & MP Railway; and have taken in one of my favorite spots, Clarence Young's home and garden. My first trip there was a long winding trail taking off from the old Mayport Road and riding for nearly a mile until suddenly, you were there. Fruit trees were everywhere and flowers were blooming in every corner of the garden, in every hue of the rainbow. Thought for a minute that I was in the "Garden of Eden", then I looked up and saw sweat on the man's face.

    Before the coming of the highway A1A from Jacksonville Beach to St. Augustine, this stretch of beach was almost deserted. In those days you could drive down the beach if you were careful of the tide, but I have always wondered how they ever got the material up on the sand dune where the old Lett house was located. This house was about a mile north of Mickler Road and finally came to be known as the Wine Cellar because it did have a cellar and it was usually loaded, not with wine, but with branded whiskeys brought from the Islands.

    This was a place very suspected by the "Revenoorers" for the unloading of boats from the Islands. One of my friends says they were paid from a dollar to a dollar and a half a case to help unload boats, and even at that price there was no surety bond out on the unloaders, they could bury their own cases in the dark and come back another day. Must have given the head man a great big ulcer.

    It was in this lonely spot that a German submarine surfaced on June 16, 1942, and discharged four passengers along with boxes of explosives. These men were trained German spies and had come to blow up bridges, highways, buildings, factories, or do anything that might impede our progress in the war. These men had plenty of money with them but most of it was in big bills and that came close to causing their trouble in the Jacksonville Beach Bus Station. I'm not sure as to how they paid their fare from the Ponte Vedra store to the bus station but they did have quite a hassle at the station in getting change. Most of these men had spent time in this country, before the war, and were well acquainted with every strategic spot here. They had no thought of anyone recognizing them but you can play your luck only so far, and theirs ran out. One of them was recognized and immediately the FBI was alerted.

    Another group of four saboteurs landed at Long Island about the same time as our group landed here. The plan was to unite and do all the damage they could. Of the eight, two turned government evidence and were given long sentences while the other six were electrocuted. Living in the dark here with so much going on around you, made you really grateful when V Day finally arrived.