Recollections of World War II
by Carol Byrd Rist
Fort Lauderdale during World War II was totally involved in the war effort. We felt that the war was on our doorstep, especially when we went to the beach in the evening and saw burning cargo ships and tankers, which had been torpedoed by German subs, floating slowly north in the Gulf Stream. The tops of car headlights were painted black and shades were to be kept down at night to limit the light shining out over the Atlantic which could outline American ships and make them easy targets for German subs. Most of the hotels had been turned into barracks and servicemen (and a few servicewomen) were everywhere. Many of the servicemen came to our church on Sundays, and a call always came from the pulpit for church members to take some of our heroes home for Sunday dinner. My brother, Tom, and I were always begging our mother to take home some sailors. She usually refused and I thought she was heartless. Years later she told me that those sailors were more interested in our big sister, Marilyn, than they were in a family meal.
My dad was too old to be drafted and my
brothers were too young. We had one uncle in the Marines and another in the Navy, but no one actually saw combat. My mother’s cousin, who was a WAC, visited once, and I was enormously proud of her. Tom Manuel, a good friend of my parents, and as old as my dad, volunteered for the Marines. He fought in many big battles in the Pacific.
What is now Ft. Lauderdale Airport was then Ft. Lauderdale Naval Air Station. (The squadron which disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle left from Ft. Lauderdale Naval Air Station). The sound of planes flying over was constant. The swimming pool at the beach became the place where airmen learned how to survive if they ditched in the ocean. They didn’t even close the pool to the public when they trained, and we kids really loved watching them train.
War bonds were a big thing. School children had stamp books and bought stamps every week, or month. When you had bought enough stamps, you got a bond. At the end of the school year, a sailor came to East Side Elementary School with a jeep, and took every kid who had bought a bond for a ride in the jeep.
Everyone was involved in the war effort. Of course we had a victory garden, and my mom was an air spotter. With those German subs just off the coast, no one knew when a German plane would come bomb us. So an air spotting station was built on top of the Sweet Building, the tallest building in town (9 floors). It was manned during daylight hours seven days a week. The spotter recorded every plane that was seen. It was necessary for the spotters to be able to identify all those planes, so a class was held at the high school auditorium where the spotters were taught to recognize all planes, allied and enemy. My brother and I attended the air spotting classes along with our mother and became quite good at identifying the planes. They finally had to tell us not to blurt out the name of planes when they were testing the air spotters. We spent many busy hours identifying and recording every plane we saw, but in case you are wondering, no enemy plane was ever spotted from the top of the Sweet Building.