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JAX at War

MARRIED TO THE MILITARY — Some of these postcards may not date from a war, but Jacksonville has certainly helped to keep America prepared. The River City has hosted major military bases for many years. In fact, the US Navy is its largest employer today.

The top postcard reveals a scene from Camp Foster. If you’ve been to NAS Jax, then you’ve been to where Camp Foster stood. This Westside location has long been the stomping grounds for the military. The Florida National Guard established a base there in 1909. During World War I a few years later, the site became Camp Johnston, a major training center for Army quartermasters. These are the troops who are responsible for providing quarters, provisions, storage, clothing, fuel, stationery, and transportation for their fellow soldiers. Camp Johnston could boast of containing the second largest rifle range in the United States. After WWI ended in 1919, the National Guard once again occupied the base and renamed it Camp Foster. In 1940, the location changed monikers again when Naval Air Station Jacksonville opened.

The middle postcard probably dates from World War II. Navy bombers cruise over Jacksonville and the St. Johns River. Notice the black railroad bridge, which is in the open position. This span is still in use downtown.

SOME REAL GIANTS — The bottom postcard may date from about 1970, the time of the Vietnam War. It shows NAS Jax, with the air station marina in the foreground. You can’t help but notice the king-sized building on the right-hand side. Several mammoth structures sprawl across the base.

For many months prior to Pearl Harbor, the United States prepared its military defenses. Its efforts included the construction of the colossal facilities at NAS Jax in 1940. Military authorities built the enormous Assembly & Repair Shop, which covers nearly 1,500,000 square feet. (The average Wal-Mart Supercenter requires 109,000 to 260,000 square feet or more.) Art Deco in style, the Assembly & Repair Shop was intended for the overhaul & maintenance of military planes. It is flooded with light from thousands of window panes, and it centers on a door that measures 160-feet wide by 45-feet wide.

Other pre-WWII structures at the base include four huge hangars. Each has sliding doors that stand 32-feet high and 318-feet long. These are clearly visible from the cafeteria atop the 23-story Humana Building downtown, over six miles away. The hangars originally sheltered seaplanes, but in recent years, the military has replaced seaplanes with helicopters. The hangars are now used for the storage of jets.

written by Glenn Emery

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