Florida Humanities Council

War Comes to Florida: Florida Goes Overseas

World War II profoundly changed Florida and Floridians. Almost a quarter million Floridians served in the armed forces. Many of them had never traveled far beyond their farms or neighborhoods and now found themselves transplanted to places they had never imagined: Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima, Salerno and Omaha Beach.

Floridians distinguished themselves in the war. Remarkably, some of the war’s first and last heroes hailed from the Sunshine State. Alexander “Sandy” Nininger of Fort Lauderdale became World War II’s first serviceman to be awarded (posthumously) the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery in the Philippines. Another Floridian, Colin P. Kelly Jr. of Madison, became the war’s first great hero when he guided his badly damaged B-17 into a Japanese battleship in Manila Bay. Or at least that’s what the public thought happened. Kelly’s story stirred a public desperate for heroes. Today, Four Freedoms Park in Madison honors Kelly’s memory. On August 6, 1945, Lt. Commander Paul Tibbets climbed into his B-29 Super Fortress and led the most famous bombing mission of WWII. The mission dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. Tibbets had named his B-29 bomber Enola Gay, after his mother, who lived at 1716 S.W. 12th Avenue in Miami.

The conflict had not only taken 250,000 Floridians to faraway training bases and battles, the war had brought several million servicemen, their wives, sweethearts, workers, and tourists to the Sunshine State. Most returned home after V-J Day, but the dizzying mobility remained a characteristic of post-war life in Florida.


Colin P. Kelly

Colin P. Kelly, born in Madison, Florida, was a World War II pilot who flew bombing runs against the Japanese navy in the first days after the Pearl Harbor attack. He is remembered as a war hero for sacrificing his own life to save his crew when his plane became the first American B-17 to be shot down in combat. Kelly has been called the first American hero of the Second World War.


"Wanted-A Good Bed and a Bowl of Chili"
A letter written by Lt. Gilbert Myers to his parents from somewhere in Africa. The letter was printed in the St. Petersburg Times.
St. Petersburg Times July 4, 1943
"Local Pilot, Whose Bomber Scored Hit on Jap Cargo Ship, Awarded Air Medal"
St. Petersburg Times article describing mission that lead to local pilot, Lt. Donald R. Latham, being awarded an air medal: July 4, 1943.
Courtesy of St. Petersburg Times July 4, 1943