Sidney A. Winchester was a man dedicated to serving his country, and to serving the memory of the men and women who trained here in that service.
Last month, the community repaid the favor.
In a sun-drenched ceremony Saturday morning, Sept. 21, the Camp Gordon Johnston World War II Museum dedicated its museum to the memory of Winchester.
“He was a moving force from the beginning of Camp Gordon Johnston,” said the program’s emcee, David Butler, president of the board of the non-profit Camp Gordon Johnson Association. “There had not been anything established here for 50 years.
Butler recounted the history of the organization dating back to the creation of a commemorative unit in the mid-1990s.
The group began by holding a parade in Carrabelle, and the response was enthusiastic. “They asked that we do it again,” he said. “Sidney Winchester was in the middle of it.”
First named as vice president of the group, Winchester was quickly elevated to president, which he served for four years. The organizers began with a small site on Fourth Street, and for a time they considered just keeping a small site and donating their growing collection of artifacts to the museum at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Butler said.
“The decision was to be here permanently and have a museum,” he said. “And Sid Winchester served in every officer position.”
Winchester and his son Rob, who offered remarks at the Saturday ceremony, at one time went to the New Orleans police department and obtained for the museum a DUKW, often called a “duck,” which is a six-wheel-drive amphibious modification of trucks used by the U.S. military during World War II and the Korean War.
Winchester contacted Fort Rucker and got their “Silver Wings” band to come down for parades. “The leadership things he did, he was adamant about having the parade, as much as the museum and artifacts,” Butler said. “That was again, leadership. He was always a strong voice.”
With the support of American Legion Post 82 and its auxiliary, the museum’s mission persisted, Butler said.
He noted that at one time, there was even a movement to have the museum moved to Wakulla County but Winchester and others would have none of it.
“It comes back to that commitment,” Butler said. “Sid said ‘No, we’ll place it on the Camp Gordon Johnston training area.'”
Butler said his friend was committed to the project and the parade up until his death from cancer in 2015, at the age of 77.
“He wasn’t going to slack on that responsibility,” said Butler, noting that Winchester went in a golf cart to mark the route with tape, but could not actually attend the parade.
“He had to go home because he was too weak,” said Butler. “If that’s not dedication and worthy of the Camp Gordon Johnston building being dedicated in his name, I’m not sure what is.”
The ceremony got underway with Pastor Byron Sherman of the First Baptist Church of Carrabelle giving the benediction, praising God for his work to “never forget the sacrifice and sacrifices of our military.
“I know You stirred his heart to bring this about, along with others,” said Sherman. “Thank you for the quality of this museum. To help remember that other generations beyond our own, they will recall and know with certainty what happened with the world war and how Carrabelle was involved with that, a key to it.”
After thanking the many dignitaries in attendance, from the city and county, Butler presented the plaque of memory to Winchester’s widow Bobbye, and his son Rob, a retired Marine major who now works for Homeland Security.
The plaque notes Winchester’s service as founder, director and president of the musuem from 1995 2015.
“I’m so thankful to my heavenly father that He moved on the people of the government to choose this little town Carrabelle,” said Bobbye Winchester. “It was called hell by the sea by those boys, you know they had it rough, but it was a blessing to Carrabelle.
“It was a quiet a little town but it became alive for a few years and I’ll never forget the memory of it. I pray the memory will always go on,” she said.
Rob Winchester said it was “a honor and privilege” for the entire family for his father to be so remembered.
He asked all the veterans in the audience to stand, of which there were several, and introduced his father-in-law Eddie Weil, who had turned 99 in August and who served in the Army Air Corps during World War II.
“He paved the road for the younger guys to come along,” said Rob Winchester.
He also noted Bobbye’s dad James Chason and his brother Emery, for their service with the camp, as well as his aunt Dixie, who worked in the cobbler’s shop. “Carrabelle was still living in the Depression, times were tough,” he said. “It brought money to the community and helped everyone.”
Rob Winchester recounted how his father told him stories of how one time, he and his uncle Oswald had seen brown paper sacks, busted and spewing flour, on the ground as they walked to school.
“The Army Air Corps had bombed Carrabelle,” he said. “They were doing practice runs.”
He recalled stories from his dad how the Army one time brought a DUKW to the schoolyard, and loaded up a bunch of kids for rides in it. “He said that was a blast,” Rob Winchester said.
Sid Winchester’s dad Emmitt ran the Gulf Station in town, and was known to share ration cards for gas, food and tires with GIs. “They’d come for them if they had to go on leave,” said Rob.
The family even took in a young soldier and his wife and two boys when they came to town. Housing was difficult to find, but the Winchesters put the family in an old barn next to their house.
The family’s two boys, Jimmy and Max, became fast friends with Sid and Oswald. “They stayed at grandparents’ house more than they did in the back,” he said.
He also recounted a story of how the boys once took a boat out from the Army rec center, and rather than be detected, were forced to sink it and swim to shore at Lake Morality.
“Dad said the Army never figured out what happened to that boat,” said Rob Winchester.
Winchester also cited the contribution of his sister, Karen Winchester Wier, whose son recently got out of the Marines, and his brother Sid Winchester Jr.
The ceremony featured remarks from Cong. Neal Dunn, who Butler introduced as a former Army, who had grown up in 20 different duty stations and then went on to college, medical school, and a residency at Walter Reed and a 10-year career as an Army surgeon before going into private practice in Panama City.
“My heroes have always been soldiers,” said Dunn.
He spoke of his visit to Normandy on the 75th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944.
“D-Day is an iconic day. You almost have to go there to feel it,” he said. “That day was the day that changed from Germany winning the war to us.
“If we had not been successful that war might have gone two, three years or more, or we could have lost,” Dunn said. “It was that close.”
He told of how the French came out in force to celebrate the anniversary, with hundreds of thousands puring into the small coastal town. They hung American flags from their cars, he said.
“People hugging them (the Americans), thanking them, kissing them, it was a very welcome reception,” Dunn said.
"We should be teaching more history in our schools,” said the congressman, “We need to teach history too we have lost the history of our nation for a large degree.”
Dunn praised the work of his aide, former state representative Will Kendrick, for his work in the legislature advocating on behalf of the museum.
The congressman also showed off a bottle of sand he brought back with him from the Normandy beach, and stood it alongside one from Carrabelle Beach, where troops from such units as the 4th Infantry Division trained here for the D-Day landing.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Gerry Howard, representing the veterans organization of the 4th Infantry Division, presented Butler with a check for $1,000, just as the association has done for the last four years and which they have pledged to continue doing.