The memories of the wartime years of Camp Gordon Johnston are fading, as more and more members of the Greatest Generation pass away, and with them their first-hand accounts of the Carrabelle training ground for America’s amphibious assaults against the Axis powers during World War II.
But the commitment in Carrabelle to remembering Camp Gordon Johnston is as strong as it’s ever been, and last weekend saw it flex its muscle.
Crowds didn’t line the streets for Saturday morning’s parade as they have in the past, but the wartime vehicles were on full-display as they rumbled down U.S. 98.
The parade was led by three grand marshals, all of the World War II vets - Bob Dietz and Jim Petrone, both from Lanark Village, and Jim Brown, a former mayor of Carrabelle.
Taking part were representatives of VFW Post #4538 in Crawfordville, the Citrus Chapter #192 Korean War Veterans Association, the Tallahassee chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Camp Gordon Johnston Museum, Mayor Brenda La Paz, the county commissioners and constitutional officers, the Masons and the Shriners in their little cars, the Camp Gordon Johnston American Legion Post #82 in Lanark Village, lots of beauty queens, and many more.
Outside of C-Quarters, parents of the Franklin County High School Class of 2019 served up freshly-smoked chicken from the 10-4 BBQ team to raise money for Project Graduation.
Along the parade route, kids scrambled for candy, and waved hand-painted signs created by students under the direction of Franklin County art teacher Lydia Countryman.
“As far as the parade went it was about normal. It might have been slightly slimmer,” said David Butler, a member of the board of directors at the Camp Gordon Johnston Museum.
On Friday night, the back room of the Legion post in Lanark Village was packed at the low country boil, with all veterans invited to join in the welcoming festivities.
“We were widening the scope of who could come,” said Butler.
Butler’s colleague at the museum, Jim Newton, who presides over the board, said he and Mark Melcher and their fellow organizers were extremely pleased with Sunday’s Dice Run, which exceeded expectations.
“We gave out 70 sheets to entrants, after we had only printed out 40,” he said. “It was a huge success. I didn’t know if we would get five or 105 people.”
Newton said the Dice Run should raise more than $1,000 for the museum when all the proceeds and expenses are accounted for.
With Phyllis Blan and Betty Davis manning a table to sign up members of the Daughters of the American Revolution out in front, the museum was filled with visitors all day long.
Among them was Vivian hess, from Tallahassee, whose father, Henry Vivian Matthews served as postmaster of the training base during the war years.
The family came down after Matthews was assigned by the postal service to the base, and that is where they lived from 1942 to 1946.
From when she was 8 until she was 13, young Vivian attended Carrabelle School, where her classmates were jealous of the pampered treatment she got, including being transported to school by military personnel.
“They hated me,” she said. “Carrabelle didn’t have new people coming in very often. The kids were jealous of me, the only kid on the base.”
Among her memories was having German prisoner of war Hermann Blumhardt bake her a cake on her 11th birthday, of having Gen. Omar Bradley drive her around and present her with a special patch, and of collecting unit patches from the soldiers as the handed them over to her as they were being mustered out to return home.
“They were leaving,” she said. “They didn’t want any part of the war anymore.”
Hess’ patches can be seen in an exhibit at the museum.
“Punky,” as Hess was known as a child, was on hand for the day’s events together with Peaches, an aging golden retriever that is part of the Tallahassee Memorial Hospital’s animal therapy program.
On Wednesday, Camp Gordon Johnston Museum honored military working dogs in celebration of the official birthday for the U. S. Military K-9 Corps. They showed, and continue to show, special vintage military videos, including “The Dogs of War: The U.S. Army’s Use of Canines in World War II,” “My Buddy: The Dogs of World War II” and “The Use of Dogs - Dogs Go to War,” which are both Marine films; “Story of a Dog: from the Dog,” produced by the Coast Guard,” and “War Dogs of the U.S. Coast Guard in World War II.”
Folks were welcome to bring their well-behaved dog(s) on a short leash, and to take their picture with the display of their choice.
On Saturday night, attendance was strong for the Camp Gordon Johnston Reunion Dinner Dance at the Franklin County Senior Center in Carrabelle, where the crowd enjoyed a 1940’s era dinner and music from that era.