The History of Clearwater Part XI
ince the late 1880s Clearwater has been known as a superlative host for people who come from all over the world to partake in its beautiful weather, enviable beaches and healthy air. At perhaps no time was this more evident than during the dark years of the Second World War.
Starting in 1942, before being shipped either to the European theater or the expanse of the South Pacific, soldiers from all over the United States came to Clearwater to ready themselves for the rigors of battle.
Though the war cast a dark pall over the world, and the soldiers who came to our city lived in the uncertainty of whether they would ever see their loved ones again, the citizens of Clearwater were bound and determined that the nation’s fighting men would enjoy their stay in the Springtime City.
Though the war cast a dark pall over the world, the citizens of Clearwater were bound and determined that the nation’s fighting men would enjoy their stay in the Springtime City.
The Fort Harrison Hotel had a prominent role in contributing to the ambiance.
The luxury hotel was already renowned by its winter guests for its graciousness. From its grand opening in 1927 and continuing into the 1930s and early ’40s, the Fort Harrison was used for fashion shows, wedding receptions, card parties, bridge teas, tea dances, birthday parties, Kiwanis and Rotary meetings. The hotel had its own orchestra, who performed in the ballroom, and guests could also find “The Dancing Dolls” in their “Spectacular Review” performing with Mademoiselle Euphemia Kavass and Eddie Dean’s Fort Harrison Orchestra.
In the early 1940s, the big hotels in the area, including the Fort Harrison, contracted with Uncle Sam to house the platoons of young men who were pouring into the region to receive military training. The Fort Harrison, Grey Moss Inn and Belleview Biltmore were stripped of their luxurious furniture, rugs and bric-a-brac. In their place came army cots and olive drab. Even in these scaled down surroundings, the soldiers wrote letters home bragging about their luxurious accommodations. The Fort Harrison and the Grey Moss Inn housed the 588th Army Airborne Squadron and the local Military Police.
Adapting to the times, the focus of Clearwater’s enthusiasm for fun merely shifted from the entertaining of “snow birds” to the entertaining of the Armed Forces. The Clearwater Sun ran news of dances held for soldiers and society matrons hosting officer’s wives for tea. Cartoons urged Clearwater citizens to buy war bonds and reminded them to send letters to “the boys” in the service. Merchants stayed open late to accommodate the soldiers, who were on duty until 6:00 p.m.
Guest columnists from the rank and file of the 588th wrote for the Clearwater Sun, entertaining the general public with the exploits of their fellow enlisted men. One column described with great humor the shock of one private — the dishwasher at the Fort Harrison — when after taking a nap under the sink, he awoke to find himself trapped by piles and piles of incoming dirty dishes and pans. Another column warned soldiers in the Squadron band not to be caught practicing on the roof of the hotel.
Not to be outdone by their hosts, the military provided entertainment for the citizens of Clearwater. Members of the 588th held Christmas parties, open houses and performed plays written and directed by their own members. (The 588th boasted three Hollywood residents who worked in the movie industry as a set designer, screen writer and character actor.) When a second bugler arrived to the 588th, the 588th’s columnist announced that not only would the boys have a second person to hate in the morning at reveille, but the girls would have a second bugler to “swoon over” at Retreat, which was held every day at 6:00 p.m. in front of the Pinellas County Courthouse.
The subsequent editions of the Clearwater Sun faithfully recorded those who were shipped out, praised their acts of bravery, and mourned their passing. For although the soldiers came from parts far and wide, Clearwater proudly adopted them as their own.