Even as the generation that fought World War II passes into memory, museums that commemorate their heroics are blossoming. An excellent example, that I recently had the pleasure of visiting, is the Camp Gordon Johnston WW II Museum in Carrabelle, Florida.
Located about 80 miles east of Panama City and some 45 minutes southwest of Tallahassee along Florida’s “Big Bend,” the museum houses a wonderful collection of photographs, newspapers, uniforms, and equipment, largely donated by Franklin County residents. The museum also tells the story of the camp that was established in 1942 as an amphibious training ground for the Unite States military. The camp covered over 160,000 acres across 26 miles of Gulf Coast Beach.
The museum is not merely a collection of artifacts—because most were donated, most have a personal story behind them. There is the large banner of military badges donated by a woman who, as a girl, collected them from soldiers at the train station. There’s the personal, “rising sun” flag taken from a Japanese soldier by the American who bayoneted him. The G. I., however gave it away after the war as it brought back too many bad memories. A visitor does not simply look at items here; rather he or she can feel the moment in which the items were endowed with meaning.
The camp was closed in 1946 and while long-time Carrabelle residents can spot vestiges of the place, it now exists primarily in the mementos and memories that are displayed so well in the museum.
Carrabelle is a large fishing community, but a very small town—not much more than a crossroads, really, but it is the perfect place to reflect on the thousands of young people who passed through here 75 years ago.