Punta Gorda Airfield

Punta Gorda Airfield

Good Day to all!  Here is part 2 of Gussie Baker’s recollections concerning changes to Punta Gorda during World War II.  Hope you’re enjoying them as much as I am.  Thank you Gussie!  Did you know that everybody pitched in to help the war effort?  I’ll bet you did!

Again, in Gussie’s words:  The war and the airbase changed school, as well as home life. We were given red dog tags that had our name, date of birth, and address on them.  I might not have remembered this if I didn’t still have mine.  I talked to David Craft the other day and he also remembers wearing one to school.  If you didn’t, you were sent home.

I asked Gussie if she knew why they had to wear them.  She figured it was the same as military personnel, if something happened, you could be identified.  One has to remember, particularly in the war’s early days after Pearl Harbor, it was anticipated that anything might happen.  Being on the water, with an airbase, I’m sure Punta Gorda was considered especially vulnerable.  I still have the Billy club one of my granddad’s was issued to carry while patrolling the bayfront guarding against a possible attack.  Can you imagine?

Back to Gussie; once a week for years, we had practice drills when we had to get down under our desk and cover our heads.  At the high school, things were really changing, as all the boys were joining the service. At the end of the 1941-42 school year, only one boy graduated and he left the next day for the Navy.

The city looked so different, as all the men under 40 years old were gone. It became a town full of ladies, until all the soldiers showed up and planes started flying day and night. They flew so low I thought one might be coming in my window, but we got used to it.

One good thing did happen, Mr. Alfred, who owned Hotel Charlotte Harbor, let the city use the big pool when the hotel wasn’t open.  The soldiers became the life guards and were so nice. We had to follow the rules, but got to know a lot of them. They held a swim meet at the pool and a lot of city kids were in the meet, me for one.  I won my race and received a medal with wings on it, which I still have.

The soldiers were really nice to all of us and we were lucky to get to know them.

A lot of necessities started to become hard to get and most of them became rationed. That added a lot of work for my mother because she had to stay up late and finish ration reports for the government every week.  Most groceries were rationed and that was not easy on the store owner or customer.

Folks really had to do without things they needed.  Then shoes, gas, and a lot of other items became rationed, making things worse. You were only allowed three gallons of gas a week, which didn’t get you very far, and one pair of shoes a year, which was really rough. I remember John Hagan outgrew a pair of shoes and Mrs. Hagan gave them to Mother for me to wear. I was glad to get them and remember thanking her.  Lavohn (Schwork) was taller than me, so I got her clothes when she outgrew them. She had sisters older than her, so she got their hand-me-downs. When I outgrew my clothes, my younger sister Lois (Peeples) would wear them. That’s the way it was during the war.


Then the government started building places for us to take pots and pans, or anything that bullets could be made from.  They were in front of the courthouse and in the city park across the street from our store (where the carwash and Hessler’s Carpet are today).  People brought old aluminum, scrap metal and anything else that could be useful for the war effort.

David remembers a little tricycle he would ride next to U. S. 41 to watch the Army convoys. Sometimes they would stop and soldiers, with guns in hand, would tell him, “You are so lucky you are still a little boy now and not old enough to go to war.”  One day later, he didn’t have his little tricycle.  It was gone and he found it at the courthouse on top of a big pile of stuff to be picked up to make bullets. David had to walk to school then, since his tricycle was gone.  The metal destined to become bullets would be picked up once a week and taken to the shipyard in Tampa. My Aunt Lucile (Peeples) and many other women were working there to help build ships.

More in my next columns!  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.

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.

“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 https://cchistoricalsociety.com/, or call 941- 769-1270 for more information.



January 17 column