The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum proudly announces the opening of a new exhibit, “Guardians of the First Coast: Building Readiness for World War II,” on August 1, 2020. This exhibition, housed in the Museum’s 1941 Coastal Lookout Building, honors the brave men and women who defended our coast as World War II began. The exhibit showcases firsthand stories, letters, photographs and videos collected from those who served in World War II. While local men and women served around the world, the war also came to local shores. The Hotel Ponce de Leon closed to guests and reopened as the United States Coast Guard (USCG) Training Center, preparing men and women for service around the world. In addition, beginning in Winter 1942, German U-boats patrolled off the coast of Florida attacking the shipping lanes that provided the Allies with supplies. Florida citizens including local shrimpers formed boat patrols to report any U-boat sightings in the local waters.
Additional WWII history continues in the restored 1936 garage used by the USCG Beach Patrol. These armed men vigilantly patrolled in Jeeps to guard miles of coastline against enemy landings. Today the garage features not only the Tin Pickle, a gedunk (snack bar) featuring unique WWII-inspired snacks, but also additional artifacts and stories about wartime St. Augustine.
“These precious artifacts are treasures that tell a story of dedication and sacrifice,” said CAPT Bob Buehn, US Navy Retired, and Chairperson of the Museum Board of Trustees. He continued, “We are proud to bring this story to the public, and we want to thank the donors who made the exhibit possible. Special thanks are due to the Questers of Ponte Vedra Beach and to the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Historical Resources. We also thank the St. Johns County Veterans Council for sharing stories of service and bravery.”
“We have some powerful stories that brings to life the cultural diversity and unique perspectives reflected in local first-hand experiences,” said Kathy Fleming, the Museum Executive Director. The exhibit is offered at no additional charge when paying regular admission. The Museum offers discounts to schools, seniors, and veterans, and admission is always free to active military and first responders. St. Johns County residents pay once and come all year long. “We invite everyone to visit and learn about our local WWII history; it is truly eye-opening,” said Fleming.
“Every admission or donation helps our non-profit save more of these veterans’ stories,” added Buehn. “We honor those who served, and there is more to come.”
To donate to this project and help save veterans’ stories please contact Gayle Ballard at [email protected] or call 904/829-0745 ext. 208. Learn more about the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum by visiting www.StAugustineLighthouse.org. Image via the St. Augustine Lighthouse.