Administrative Officer Lindsey Phillips reported to Historic City News that although most St. Augustinians are familiar with the early history of Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, what many people are not familiar with is the old fort’s involvement in World War II.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the National Park Service gave the United States’ military permission to use many National Parks and Monuments for the war effort, so long as the sites were not permanently damaged. Castillo de San Marcos was one such site.
The U. S. Coast Guard was authorized to use several of the fort’s casemates as classrooms, the parade grounds for their drilling practices, and the courtyard for graduation ceremonies. Rooms along the west wall were converted to classrooms for the Gunner’s Mate school.
In January of 1943, Castillo historian Albert Manucy wrote in his monthly report “Coast Guard use of certain rooms… seems to be working out satisfactorily. Most visitors, it is apparent, are gratified at this evidence of war effort in this famous structure.”
Later that year, in August, the Gunner’s Mate school moved out of the fort, and their classrooms were put to use by the officer’s training school.
In April of 1944, the Coast Guard “removed all classroom installations in the Castillo, since those facilities were no longer needed,” Manucy wrote. “Four rooms had been in use, and we are glad to say an inspection revealed no damage due to Coast Guard occupation.”
Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the grounds. The majority of the grass was lost to the marching boots of the Coast Guard trainees.
The northern part of the green saw an interesting use as well. Photographs show Army tents set up along the seawall.
In February of 1944, the Coast Guard held an auction of 122 horses, most likely retired from the mounted beach patrols that had been monitoring St. Augustine’s shores for German U-boats and saboteurs. “This affair,” wrote Manucy, “we believe to be unique in the history of the Castillo.”
The National Park Service’s archives have provided information to the Castillo staff as to how the fort was used by the Coast Guard, but they are severely lacking in another interesting and important area.
From stories told by a few World War II veterans, including some locals, the United Services Organization (USO) held parties at the Castillo, with a dance floor, a bandstand, and several bars set up in the courtyard.
“We have no photographs, park records, newspaper articles, and no advertisements about the festivities at the fort,” Phillips told Historic City News. “That is where we would like to ask for your reader’s help.”
– Was anyone you know living or serving in St. Augustine during World War II?
– Did you attend training or a dance at the Castillo?
– Do you have letters or photographs about a USO party at the fort?
If you can provide information or documents about the use of the Castillo de San Marcos during WWII, you are asked to write to our Interpretive Staff at 1 South Castillo Drive, St. Augustine, FL, 32084; or give us a call at 904-829-6506 ext. 233.
“We greatly appreciate any information that will help us better tell the story of your National Monument,” said Phillips.
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument was constructed by the Spanish in the 17th century out of shell-stone known as coquina; the Castillo has served as a refuge, a warehouse, barracks, a prison, and a tourist attraction throughout its 338 years. Colonial history is well represented at the Monument. Cannon firing demonstrations and soldiers in wool uniforms bring the 1740s to life on a daily basis.
Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer