How close we came to battle: Part II of our ‘Florida during WWII’ series

November 12, 2021
By T Michele Walker

While today’s national news is dealing heavily with topics that some are worried should not be taught in our schools, in recognition of Veteran’s Day and the sacrifices of so many military personnel to keep this country free, a new question arises … what is it students are not being taught in our schools?

There are no national social studies standards to mandate what topics or historical figures students must learn about and to make it worse, historical facts fluctuate from state to state. For example, seven states do not directly mention slavery in their state standards and eight states do not mention the civil rights movement. Only two states mention white supremacy, while 16 states list states’ rights as a cause of the Civil War.

Chip Nusbaum and Craig Worsham, producers of the documentary “State of War: Florida During World War II” at 82 West Production, are committed to making sure that Florida’s history during WWII will be available to middle and high school students. 

According to Nusbaum and Worsham, “The film will air on PBS as well as be used as an educational tool for Florida schools. A study guide will accompany the film for Florida history classes.”

Would you believe that many think the only time this country experienced combat on American soil during WWII was at Pearl Harbor? Many are not aware of the prominent role Florida, and this area in particular, played before, during and after the war. The stories are thrilling and worthy of their feature film treatment. Here are a few snippets from our area alone. 

  • In early 1942 in our own Boca Grande backyard, a pilot went out to meet a tanker in the approaches to Boca Grande. The pilot went up to Jacob’s Ladder and was immediately hustled to the bridge by two sailors in life jackets. The captain and the watchstanders were in life jackets, sweating profusely. When the pilot asked what was wrong, the captain replied, “Pilot, get us in. We saw a periscope astern, there’s a U-Boat following us.”
  • Our own Boca Grande Lighthouse was used to watch for German U-Boats. There was a submarine watchtower to the west of the light in WWII. The keeper, Cody McKeithen, kept in touch with the Coast Guard by radio. The port was used as a safe harbor at night, with up to 30 ships mooring at the dock to avoid German subs. While it was not reported at the time, as many as 189 merchant and military ships were sunk by subs in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean in 1942, according to Merchant Marine records.
  • At the lead-up and beginning of the war, the United States defenses were initially so poor that U-Boat captains felt bold enough to come close to shore, even in shallow waters. In early 1942, a U-Boat grounded at the Indian River Lagoon entrance in broad daylight. It was sighted by an unarmed Civil Air patrol aircraft which orbited it for four hours until the tide came in and the U-Boat refloated and escaped. It is significant to note that during those four hours, no Navy, Army Air Force or Coast Guard aircraft was able to respond. This led to the Civil Air Patrol being given bombs and depth charges.
  • Imagine you’re taking your family on a trip to Jacksonville Beach back in 1942. As you picnic on the sand, you find that you’re an eyewitness to a battle between a German U-Boat and a United States tanker. It was late afternoon when the attack began by U-123 on a tanker just off Jacksonville Beach. The tanker was torpedoed, set afire and then the U-Boat surfaced and shelled it in full view of the beachgoers. Tankers were priority targets according to the sailing orders given by German Admiral Doenitz when the first wave of U-Boats was sent west in January of 1942. 
  • Bombs and mines are still being caught in fisherman nets to this day. German U-boats placed mines of their own in the waters of the middle and lower Florida Keys. They remain littered with mines, unexploded depth charges and munitions from World War II. 

The history of the WWII era in Florida is rich and filled with stories that need to be preserved. Nusbaum and Worsham at 82 West Productions are dedicated to not only creating a captivating documentary, but they are also dedicated to providing this invaluable resource to schools so our children know how important this war was to the preservation of American freedoms.

“A State at War: Florida During WWII” is produced by 82 West Productions and the Florida Veterans Foundation (FVF), a 5013c non-profit arm of the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs. A percentage of all money raised for this project will go to FVF to help Florida Veterans in need, and all donations and sponsorship are tax-deductible.

To make a charitable donation to FVF in support of this project, or for more information, please contact Craig Worshum 82 West productions at Craig@82west.com, (941) 323-4331. 

Thank you to all of our veterans, for your sacrifices to keep us living free.