Home' The River Weekly News : RWN 120415 Contents Historic Downtown Fort Myers, Then And Now:
Flipsides Of World War II
by Gerri Reaves, PhD
This November 1944 photo of women posing on a convert-
ible provides evidence that even in war, happy moments
The photo was taken at nearby Buckingham Army Air Field
(BAAF), which was established soon after the Japanese attack
on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. BAAF was a flexible-
gunnery training base.
Of the six women pictured, only Leona E. Hanson (right)
is from Fort Myers. Also pictured from left are Jayne Miller of
Uniontown, Pennsylvania; Irene Mace of Waynesburg, Pennsyl-
vania; Genida Stewart of McRae, Georgia; Mayo Morris of Dur-
ham, North Carolina; and Dorothy Robert of Detroit, Michigan.
Records indicate that for at least part of World War II, Leona and her husband,
Harold, worked at the base, she as a clerk-typist and he as a machinist.
Perhaps the out-of-state women were stationed at the base as military personnel or
were wives of men who were.
Like many local civilians, the Hanson’s were contracted by the U.S. War Depart-
ment to perform necessary support jobs at the base.
Harold, who was a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Australia, earned $1.09 per
hour, and Leona $1,704 per year.
The tarpapered building in the photo’s background indicates that employees and
military personnel at BAAF didn’t enjoy luxury workplaces or living quarters.
After the intention to build BAAF was announced in late March 1942, the base was
constructed quickly so training could start as soon as possible.
The citizens of Fort Myers had had plenty of time to contemplate the coming war
before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Germany and Great Britain were already at war in 1939, and the U.S.’s entry into
that war loomed as an almost certainty.
Thus, on October 30, 1940, readers studied the Fort Myers News Press more
closely than usual, because “Here’s How The Boys Line Up” listed the military draft
numbers. What a profound impact a random number could have on families.
It was a war in which every citizen contributed, willingly or not.
The rationing of scarce wartime commodities, such as canned goods, meats, sugar,
coffee, tires and gas insured that.
Knowing how to repair machinery and make do was important, for the manufac-
ture of items like lawn mowers not used in agriculture or of automobiles stopped. Steel
had to go to the war effort, not for non-essential goods.
Even private property could be requisitioned under war regulations. Case in point:
the Kinzie Brothers’ 100-foot automobile ferry, Islander, which ran between Punta
Rassa and Sanibel, was “drafted.”
After BAAF and Page Field were established, the sight of uniformed men, as seen
in the historic photo taken at First and Dean Streets, became common.
Perhaps the flipside to sacrifice, anxiety and fear might be the energy and vitality
that tens of thousands of service men and women brought to downtown’s economic,
social and cultural life.
After the lean years of the Great Depression, lounges, motels and hotels, and stores
had new customers. Many homeowners gained additional income by renting a spare
room, for there were too few rentals in town to accommodate the demand.
For women, war brought a dramatic increase in the dating pool, not to mention
many dances and other social events.
In mid-April 1942 a Service Men’s Club opened on the Pleasure Pier, and local
women served as hostesses at the first dance.
After the pier was demolished and the Civic Center built on Edwards Drive, a USO
opened there and hosted a wide variety of events.
Opportunities opened up, especially for women – everything from pilot to
continued on page 3
THE RIVER - DECEMBER 4, 2015
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Gerri Reaves, Ph D
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Marion Hauser, MS, RD
Ross Hauser, MD
Capt. Matt Mitchell
Cynthia A. Williams
An unidentified airman from Buckingham AAF took this WWII-era photo at First and Dean.
Note the men in uniforms on the Morgan Hotel corner.
courtesy Southwest Florida Historical Society
These happy women serving at Buckingham Army Air Field demonstrate that the simple joys
of life can exist, even during war. Pictured from left are Jayne Miller, Uniontown, Pennsyl-
vania; Irene Mace, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania; Genida Stewart, McCrae, Virginia; Mayo
Morris, Durham, North Carolina; Dorothy Roberts, Detroit, Michigan; and Leona E. Hanson of
courtesy Southwest Florida Historical Society
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