A salute to our Veterans, Boca Grande History Center announces new World War II archives

November 6, 2020
By Olivia Cameron

BY MARCY SHORTUSE- To say that Jim Blaha has been hard at work at the Boca Grande History Center is an understatement. While the Center has been closed due to COVID concerns, he has been diligently putting together numerous tomes of Boca Grande history, combining information into well-thought-out volumes of lore. Five of the 27 huge binders he has created are dedicated to Florida, Boca Grande and World War II.
Blaha calls these archival books “onsite data entry research notebooks.” It’s a fancy name for files brought together in one place so someone could do research on any given topic. The first two World War II volumes include information about Florida’s part in the war in general, the other three are particular to the island’s military members, as well as some civilians who participated in the war effort.
They are in the process of having them digitized, but it is a tedious labor of love.
“I felt that we should make a serious attempt to recognize the contribution of Boca Grande residents towards the War … the Good War … as we call it,” Blaha said. 
There are 262 individual names of Boca Grande residents who registered for the draft in World War II, or served in the war. There is at least one page for each of those veterans. Blaha researched ancestry.com and the U.S. Census records to make the list and the information as complete as possible.
“If someone knows of someone who isn’t on this list, they should contact me here,” he said.
The overview of the war in Florida includes the Naval installations in Florida and other military installations. There are newspaper clippings from all over the state, and other general war memorabilia. 
In the local volumes, one of the veterans who received the commendation of Silver Star in battle was the late Jack Silcox, husband of the late Edith Silcox. The letter that came with the commendation was dated July 1, 1945 and reads as follows:
Jack Silcox, Private First Class, Infantry, Company “C,” 15th Infantry Regiment. For gallantry in action.
At 1000 hours, March 18, 1945, near Althornbach, Germany, PFC Silcox crossed over 400 yards of exposed terrain to bring up a tank and evacuate several severely wounded soldiers. With bullets ricocheting all about him, he rode the front of the tank, guiding it around craters and other obstacles. 
Reaching the casualties, he assisted in loading them in the tank, resumed his position aboard the vehicle, and directed it to the aid station. Returning alone, PFC Silcox carried medical supplies to the front, enabling less severely wounded men to receive treatment.
– By command of Brigadier General Sexton.
Another page describes what it was like to live on the island with a port along the Gulf coast. This excerpt comes from Capt. Carey Johnson’s book, “Boca Grande, the Early Days – Memoirs of an Island Son.”
During the black days of World War II, when enemy submarines were lurking in all parts of the U.S. Atlantic coast, in the Caribbean and off our beaches in the Gulf of Mexico, it was very risky for unescorted ships to try to get through the subs without being shelled to pieces. The seriousness of our dire situation in trying to supply our troops and allies in Europe and the South Pacific during World War II is brought back to mind by the memory of those days at Port Boca Grande.
The summer of 1942 was especially critical for Allied shipping in the Gulf, because some ships were operating without the benefit of naval escort. They were trying to get around the coast from port to port (in daylight hours only) in spite of being loaded with critical war material and aviation gasoline bound for the war zone.
Many of these ships, running without lights, would stop and anchor in any protected cove or harbor where nightfall happened to catch them. The deepwater port and anchorage at Boca Grande, having pilot service, naturally became one of the very important ports of refuge along the Gulf Coast.
One afternoon in June of 1942, just before sunset, a large American tanker came streaming at full speed up to the sea buoy. The pilot, noting “the bone in her mouth” (indicating considerable speed), rounded up ahead of the ship, and while at full speed, drifted back past the Jacob’s ladder and boarded on the fly.
Once on the bridge, the pilot was greeted by the life-jacketed master (captain) who apologized for his ship’s speed, but explained that he had sighted a submarine just 30 minutes before. The pilot immediately ordered to continue “sea-speed,” which is about 25 percent above ordinary harbor “maneuver speed.”
Before swinging into the entrance channel, the pilot asked the master what the draft of his ship was, and upon being told that she was drawing 30 feet, he whistled and shook his head. The captain noticed his concern and asked if that was too deep. The pilot told him that shoaling in the channel made it extremely close, without much margin for safety. At this point the captain said, “Well pilot, take her just as far as she will go. I wouldn’t stay out there with those damn subs tonight for any damned safety rules – we’re loaded with high-test aviation gasoline!”
Once inside the outer bar and relatively safe from a torpedo, half speed was ordered on the engine room telegraph to enable better control of the vessel in the narrow channel. Upon passing the lighthouse point Coast Guard lookout station, we were of course challenged by blinker light as to the ship’s complete identity.
In fact, another page in the book shows a map of the locations where enemy subs were sunk (see above). Part of the civilian effort of the war on the island included people who would keep watch for submarines from the rooftops of tall buildings.
There is enough information in Blaha’s volumes to keep the most voracious history buff immersed for many hours. If you would like to view them, contact the Boca Grande History Center at 964-1600 and ask for an appointment. While the Center is not officially open, they will do their best to accommodate you.