Gussie Baker’s Punta Gorda during World War II recollections


Good Day to all!  A huge THANK YOU to everyone making the Society’s annual Florida Frontier Days festival last weekend a success, especially our sponsors and volunteers!!  We couldn’t do it without you!


Here is the final installment of Gussie Baker’s Punta Gorda during World War II recollections.  Did you know, although everyone in Punta Gorda was understandably thrilled when the war ended, they hated to see the soldiers go?  They had become, in some cases, literally, part of the family!


In Gussie’s words: It was a big deal to go to Boca Grande beach because gas was rationed down to only three gallons a week and you could only go on Sundays because pilots practiced gunnery there during the week. A Piper Cub pulled something that looked like a pencil and the planes would shoot at the “pencil”. We would pick up metal left on the beach from the bullets.  I wish we would have saved some, but we didn’t.


One Sunday, a group of us kids were on the beach when one of them yelled, “Get in the bushes, get in the bushes.”  We all hid, looked through the bushes and spotted the German insignia on the side of a sub that just came to the top of the water. It sent up its periscope and stayed there for about 30 minutes, which seemed like hours. Finally, it submerged, and we never saw another, thank the Lord.


My mother’s brother, Bert Cole, was now in the Army Air Force and was sent home to patrol the gulf and pick up pilots who went down in practice flights.  Most of the pilots were OK, but some were hurt or worse.  He had the only speed boat around, so it didn’t take him long to pick up a flyer.


I remember Punta Gorda experiencing several hurricanes during the war. The soldiers were taken to Hotel Charlotte Harbor since the buildings they lived in were unsafe.  Some also stayed with people who had strong houses and we even had some stay at the store. The storms were really an experience for men who had never been in one, but they handled it well. After the storms, they also helped clean up the debris in addition to still working at the base and getting ready to go overseas. How lucky we were to have men of this quality at the airbase.


One Punta Gorda establishment that attracted soldiers was the movie theater owned and operated by the Desguin family. The soldiers really enjoyed going to the movies and Gertie Desguin was always nice to them. On Friday nights, a cowboy movie was featured along with a newsreel to let everyone know what was going on in the war. David remembered the title of the newsreel was “Time Marches On.”


The day the war was over in 1945, Earl Davis gave a big Sinclair gasoline sign to David and his brother and told them to start beating on it and holler as loud as they could that the war is over.  Horns also started blowing and I went to the church and rode the bell up and down, ringing it along with a bunch of other kids. There was a lot of noise in Punta Gorda that happy day made by residents who came downtown to celebrate.


We had become so used to Punta Gorda Army Airfield it was hard to see it go away after the war. Many buildings were torn down, but some were left up. One was a building where Charlotte High played basketball.  A couple of barracks were moved to town and converted to houses.  In fact, one of them, in the 600 block of West Virginia Avenue, is still being lived in.


After the war, the soldiers went home and the airfield got real quiet real fast.  Leslie Caraher moved here right after the war and his dad kept a plane there.  For several years, it was the only plane.  If only those men could see what their airfield looks like today.


It was amazing how quickly Punta Gorda turned into a tight-knit town of soldiers, women, and children after our men were drafted. It was made possible by a community spirit and unity that still characterizes Punta Gorda today.  Church was important and everyone was helping each other and the war effort.  News from loved ones in the war was shared, as was aid and comfort to those in sorrow or need. Despite the war, Punta Gorda, during those hard times, was a great place to grow up and I marvel at how well folks got along.  What an example for today’s times!


A huge THANK YOU to Gussie for allowing me to share her memories and to everyone making it possible!  I wish there had been more.  God bless her!


Visit Charlotte County’s website to view Punta Gorda Army Airfield related photographs.  Select “Community Services”, then “Libraries and History”.  Click on “Physical Items”, then “Archive Search”.  Enter the subject of your search on the “Search” line.  Photographs can also be viewed on the Punta Gorda History Center’s website.  Select “Online Collection”, then “Keyword Search” and enter the search criteria.

“Did You Know” appears, typically, every other Wednesday, courtesy of this newspaper and the Charlotte County Historical Society.  The Society’s mission is to help promote and preserve Charlotte County’s rich history.  We are also always looking for volunteers and interested individuals to serve as board members.  If you believe our area’s history is as important as we do, please visit Charlotte County Historical Society on-line at, or call 941- 769-1270 for more information

Check out History Services’ yearlong project, “Telling Your Stories: History in the Parks”.  It began in January 2021 with placement of the first interpretive sign “Charlotte Harbor Spa” at South County Regional Park.  The last was dedicated December 15, 2021 at Centennial Park featuring Florida postcards.  All dedicated signs can be viewed at online library resources.  Select “Programs and Services”, then “History Services” and “Virtual Programs”.

Visit the same site to access recently released oral histories featuring 40 local folks.  Select “History Services” and scroll down, or phone 941-629-7278, to find out what history related programs and videos are available.


February 28 column