In the early days of December 1941, cool weather and a festive spirit filled the streets of Jacksonville. The Florida
Times Union was packed with news and advertisements highlighting the Christmas holidays. Stories detailed holiday events and warning notices on the Post Office’s usual mail onslaught.
Only days into the month, overshadowing the December flurry of activity, was the shocking and sobering news of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
Within days of Pearl Harbor, Christmas parties were cancelled and American Red Cross Training classes were at full throttle throughout the city. Also, within days of December 7, Times Union carrier boys were tapped as official U.S. Defense Department agents, selling defense stamps to customers along their newspaper routes. Local Boy Scouts also mustered into action bombarding stores, gas stations, and barber and beauty shops, with ominous cards bearing the words: “Air Raid Warnings” and detailing what citizens should do in the event of an attack on the city.
Ten days following the Pearl Harbor attack, Jacksonville merchants, still in the midst of their busy Yuletide sales season, agreed that store blackouts were a necessity—making it difficult for the enemy to spot the city by air or sea.
And these were the days that a major hotel sat on nearly every downtown block; so, a “hotelman’s blackout committee” was appointed and they soon agreed that their neon signs must be turned off to “keep the city from being lit up like a Christmas tree.”
Jacksonville citizens had carefully watched the ravages of war in Europe and points east mindful of preparation on the home front—just in case.
In fact, as far back as June 1936, it was the War Department that issued a permit for construction of a second bridge crossing the St. Johns River at Jacksonville–vital in the event war came to our shores. Construction of a bridge at Main Street was underway by 1938, and was dedicated on July 17, 1941, by Governor Spessard Holland, only months before the surprise attack at Pearl Harbor.
In a great patriotic act by Jacksonville voters, a 1.1 million dollar bond issue was passed in 1939, leading to the purchase of Black Point. The citizens then pr
esented the property as a gift to the U. S. Navy, establishing Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville, the only base in the nation at that time established in such public spirited manner.
The first plane actually landed at NAS fourteen months before that fateful day of December 7. So, when Pearl Harbor was attacked, the base had actually graduated pilots at a breakneck speed for nearly a year.
On the Sunday afternoon of the Pearl Harbor attack, as crowds emerged from the row of theaters on downtown’s Forsyth Street and heard the shocking news, life suddenly changed for their city, their nation and their world. And for the next four years, Jacksonville, Florida, played a vital role in a long and gallant effort.