By Joe Pickett
Former Station Librarian
The following story is part of a continuing series on the history of Naval Station Mayport in celebration of its 75th anniversary. It was first published in the Jan. 11, 1991 edition of The Mirror.
Naval Auxiliary Air Station (NAAS) Mayport was not commissioned April 2, 1944, as I previously reported. The photographic record states April 2, 1944, whereas the written record states April 1, 1944. I contacted the librarian at the University of North Florida, who checked a perpetual calendar to determine on what days of the week the two days occurred. April 1 was a Saturday. According to Senior Chief Petty Officer David Rabeau, base library officer in 1991, commissionings are not held on Sunday. So April 1, 1944, is the official commissioning date of NAAS Mayport, contrary to the photographic record.
When NAAS Mayport was commissioned and Lt. Cmdr. Melville P. Merritt assumed command, the fates of Cmdr. Maynard F. Sanders and the Section Base were sealed. Sanders was left in command of a reduced mission and number of personnel.
The pier and docking facilities were placed under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Ships, and the commanding officer of Naval Air Station Jacksonville had jurisdiction over the aviation facilities, according to OPNAV Report 5750-1, 1966.
Shortly before his departure on Nov. 14, 1944, Sanders received a final salute as officers, Section Base personnel and pilots of the NAAS passed in review. It wasn't long after Sanders' departure that the Section Base ceased to exist, and all personnel and facilities were absorbed into the command structure of the NAAS.
On March 16, 1945, the district operations officer of the Sixth Naval Districtat Charleston, S.C., recommended the promotion of Sanders to the rank of captain in the U.S. Naval Reserve, a promotion Sanders received shortly thereafter.
NAAS Mayport was well established when Cmdr. John B. Huhn relieved Merritt as commanding officer May 8, 1945. Huhn assumed command of an auxiliary air station tenanted by an anti-aircraft school, degaussing school, an aircrewman's school, a naval air transport ferry wing that began operations in November, and approximately 900 military and civilian personnel.
Additionally, NAAS Mayport consisted of 12 other units, including Administration, Air Operations, a boat maintenance unit, Communications, dispensary, Fire Department, Public Works, Service Division Ship's Service and Air-Sea Rescue.
In January 1943, 55 Navy wives arrived at NAS Jacksonville, followed soon after by a second contingent. In 1944, two WAVES, Lt. Anita Mitchell and Ensign Irene Poole, reported for duty at Mayport. By the close of 1945, several WAVES were on board the station.
NAAS Mayport had its own newspaper called the Mayport Sextant, which wasn't as folksy as its predecessor, the Mayport Dispatch. Yet the Sextant, a weekly offering of world and local news, appeared to be quite popular with base personnel. The Mayport Sextant was the "first exclusive printed publication that NAAS Mayport had," according to the paper's final edition on April 19, 1946. The first issue came off the press on Aug. 1, 1945, and although short-lived, the newspaper provided news that base personnel were concerned about - discharges under the point system, promotions, pay raises and benefits available under the new GI Bill of Rights for Veterans. The paper was also reporting schedules for the appearances of USO camp shows at Mayport.
In August 1945, the United States ended the war with Japan when two atomic bombs were exploded over that nation, one at Hiroshima and one at Nagasaki.
On March 30, 1946, USS Solomons (CVE 67) steamed out of Ribault Bay for the last time. Her destination was Boston, where the commandant of the First Naval District issued orders for the carrier's ultimate disposal. During the week of April 5, the station commissary closed its doors. The Mayport Sextant went to the press for the last time on April 18.
On May 1, 1946, the Naval Auxiliary Air Station was decommissioned and placed in an inactive status. On July 1 of that year the station was turned over to the U.S. Coast Guard for use as an auxiliary training station. A cut in Coast Guard appropriations forced that service to abandon the facility at the end of 1947.
American University in Washington, D.C., conducted a survey of the cost of World War II in armament, war materials and property damage. Expenditures for war materials alone cost the United States $317.6 billion; Russia, $192 billion; the United Kingdom, $120 billion; German, $272.9 billion; Italy, $94 billion; and Japan, $56 billion.
The cost in military battle casualties? The United States had 16.1 million men under arms, of which 305,000 were battle deaths, and 325,000 were wounded. These figures are unofficial estimates obtained from various sources, according to the "Information Please Almanac - 1990."
This article concludes the series about the history of Mayport, and the genesis and evolution of the Naval Station during World War II. The articles were researched and written over a period of two years. The information was obtained from local and former residents of Mayport, veterans who were stationed at Mayport, and military records. Other sources include translated Spanish and French records and maps of the 16th century, and, of great importance, ecclesiastical records on file at the Motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Joseph in St. Augustine, and that community's historical society library. Probably the most valuable source of information about the people and activities at the Naval Station during World War II is the collection of photographs and records donated to the Station Library by Mrs. Maynard R. Sanders in memory of her husband.
To the Mayport Naval Reserve Veterans Group, I close the series with this thought: I kept my promise to you - I wrote your story.
Peace Comes To Mayport; NAAS Closes
By Joe Pickett