By Joe Pickett
Former Station Librarian
Editor's note: the following article is a reprint of a June 22, 1990 article that chronicles the history of Naval Station Mayport over the past several decades.
Beneath an overcast sky, the division stepped out into the line-of-march and paraded east on Forsyth Street, which was flanked by a sea of humanity that had turned out to honor the nations dead of previous wars. "stars and Stripes forever" was played by the U.s. Army band following close behind. Wearing winter blues, white leggings and hats, the men of the division were one of the smartest looking units that Armistice Day parade of 50 years ago. Several of the men were veterans of World War I.
They were proud. They were ready. They were United States Navy. They were 92 officers and enlisted personnel marching behind their new commanding officer, Lt. Cmdr. Maynard R. Sanders. They were the Organized Second Division from the United States Naval Reserve Armory at Southside in Jacksonville.
The international situation looked none too good on that November day in 1940. Sanders had been called to active duty the month before and assigned to Southside, where he relieved Lt. Cmdr. R. Malcolm Fortson as commanding officer. The recent call-up of the nation's organizaed reserves and National Guard forces, followed by the Selective Training and Service Act passed by Congress on Sept. 16, the first in peacetime history, was a portent of things to come. Except for two neutral countries, Switzerland and Sweden, all of Europe had fallen before the mighty blitzkrieg of Hitler's air and land forces.
The initial call-up of personnel in the Organized Second Division was selective. Several vacant billets existed that had to be filled prior to the general activation of the Unit. The initial call to active duty was of individuals who were trained and experienced veterans of World War I, men who were retired from the Navy, or reservists in the unit who had achieved petty officer status in their fields. Many of these men would later find themselves assigned to Mayport as a training cadre - shipfitters, radiomen, carpenters and electricians, security personnel, and last, but not least, subchaser, patrol boat and minesweeper skippers and crewmen.
The selective call-up of individuals began with Chief Petty Officer J.W. Nunn and Petty Officer 1st. Class W. Frank McGrath in August 1940. Both men were immediately assigned to recruiting duty, during which time they enlisted 40 men into the ranks of the Second Division. One of these men, Petty Officer 3rd class Edward C. Hoban, would later distinguish himself as one of a five-man gun crew and win the Silver Star.
Hoban, Petty Officer 3rd Class T.J. Dixon, Petty Officer 1st Class E.P. Decottes, Petty Officer 3rd Class G.W. Schill, and Coxswain E.B. "Sea Gull" Newman, all local boys, were called to active duty in December 1940. In the summer of 1941, thse men, none of whom served at Mayport, were sent to the Armed Guard training School. They were reassigned to the Armed Guard forces and were the first of the gun crews in World War II. By spring of 1942, when the U-boats were decimating North Atlantic convoys, the five men were fighting submarines, aircraft and torpedo-laden destroyers of the Third Reich.
Chief Petty Officer James N. Williams enlisted in the Navy in 1915, served in World War I and retired from the Navy on Sept. 7, 1936. On Nov. 26, 1940, Williams was called to active duty, and found himself at Southside the following month. He was reassigned to Mayport in December 1941, where he was stationed throughout the war.
Naval Reserve Lt. William M. Gordon received the call in October 1940, and, at first, reported to Naval Air Station Jacksonville. He was reassigned to Mayport as the resident officer in charge of construction.
Reserve Lt. Karl H. Anderson, an electrical engineer, received his marching orders to report to Southside in late 1940. Anderson was reassigned to Mayport in early 1941, where he played a major role in the construction of the base. He, too, remained at Mayport for the duration of the war.
One day in December 1940, Sanders had 100 officers and enlisted men of the unit march out to the parade field at Southside where he proceeded to read the commissioning orders for the new Frontier Section Base at Mayport. Meanwhile, more reservists were being called to active duty and assigned to the Second Division.
By the close of 1940, all of the division's vacant billets had been filled. If war was to come, the unit would be ready. They didn't have long to wait - the call-up came on Dec. 26, 1940.
The next article in this series on the history of the Naval Station will cover the activities of the division at Southside and the nucleus of men sent to Mayport during the initial stages of construction. Time was of the essence. When the attack on Pearl Harbor came a year later, Mayport went to war.