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Introduction

While the U.S. military invaded Palm Beach County setting up bases to train or transport men and material to Africa and Europe,German U-boats brought the war right to our front door attacking
shipping along the coast.

The USS Shaw explodes from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor

The USS Shaw explodes from the Japanese
attack on Pearl Harbor.

Palm Beach County experienced World War II sooner, and at closer range, than most of the U.S. The Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor brought the nation abruptly into the war on December 7, 1941. For some time before, however, our military had been preparing for their possible involvement in the war, and part of that preparation was done in Palm Beach County. The temperate climate and flat terrain made it ideal for training pilots and testing airplanes.

A group at the West Palm Beach train station welcomes returning servicemen

A group at the West Palm Beach train station
welcomes returning servicemen , ca. 1945.

Once the U.S. was an active participant in the war, the vulnerability of Florida’s long coastline attracted German submarines, or U-boats, seeking to eliminate freighters who supported the Allies. Ships traveling in the Gulf Stream were closest to shore in Palm Beach County, increasing its attraction. Although newspapers would not risk informing the enemy by publishing current information about a torpedoed ship, coastal residents had front row seats to watch it burn. In response, many who spent the war at home took an active part in defending their shores and supporting visiting military personnel.

Many thousands of servicemen and women spent time in Boca Raton, Jupiter, or Palm Beach for the first time because of World War II, and many would return. The 1940 pre-war population of Palm Beach County, nearly 80,000, would grow to almost 115,000 by 1950 and escalate quickly from there.

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