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Buckingham & Page Army Airfields Memorial

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Centennial Park is home to a number of the River District’s public artworks. To the west of the Heitman Street and the Caloosahatchee Bridge is Fire Dance. Beyond the entrance to the park located at Monroe Street and Edwards Drive are three representational works by sculptor D.J. Wilkins, The Great Turtle Chase, Uncommon Friends and Clayton. And just steps to the northwest of Uncommon Friends is the Buckingham & BPAAM from northwestPage Army Airfields Memorial.

The Memorial consists of three granite markers placed in front of an airplane propeller. It honors the airmen and others who trained during World War II at Fort Myers’ air bases, Buckingham Field, a 65,723-acre flexible bomber gunnery school, and Page Field, which served as a training base for P39, P40, P47 and P51 fighter pilots. It was erected by the City of Fort Myers in 1991, but the name of the artist who actually crafted the memorial is not known.

 

More About Buckingham Army Air Field

Historic Buck Airfield Photos 13The Buckingham Army Airfield originally had three 5,000-foot-long concrete runways, but as the base grew in size, the number of runways expanded to six. Buckingham’s commander, Col. Delmar, described the facility as “…the ugliest field in the entire nation.” That’s because its 483 buildings were designed to be the “cheapest, temporary character with structural stability only sufficient to meet the needs of the service which the structure is Historic Buck Airfield Photos 07intended to fulfill during the period of its contemplated war use.” To conserve critical materials, most facilities were constructed of wood, concrete, brick, gypsum board and concrete asbestos. The facility ultimately included seven mess halls, one hangar, 228 barracks, 24 hospital buildings, dental clinics, warehouses, motor pool and maintenance shops.

Historic Buck Airfield Photos 10Flying the B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-24 Liberator, Buckingham trained nearly 48,000 airmen as aircrew gunners. In the 1943 yearbook for Buckingham AAF, there is a passage which states: “And when this war is all over, Buckingham in all probability will be abandoned; its construction and buildings are temporary. But the men who have trained here will never forget the 101 (2)valuable things they have learned, and in the months ahead the Nazis and the Japs will come to know better and better the accuracy of guns aimed by Buckingham men.”

Buckingham Field was indeed abandoned after the war. The barracks were briefly used as the home of Edison College, but that ended in 1948 and most of the buildings of the original base were removed over time.

Historic Buck Airfield Photos 08Today the former Buckingham Field serves as the Lee County Mosquito Control District (LCMCD) airfield and office. World War II period maps, photographs and annuals may be viewed at the LCMCD office with prior arrangement. The most visible remnant of the airfield today is the large aircraft parking ramp, as the runways themselves were torn up and removed. Streets and homes in Lehigh Acres now cover much of the station area. Vegetation has reclaimed the rest. But even now, people find clay skeets, spent bullets, dog tags, old coins and other World War II mementos in the area previously occupied by the base.

Buckingham is the subject of a 2010 book by Chris Wadsworth and Matt 102 (2)Johnson that explores the rich history of the base. Titled simply Buckingham Army Air Field, the tome is available in paperback on Amazon.com. It is filled with great stories, fascinating facts and nearly 200 historic World War II era photos. One shows film icon Judy Garland visiting Buckingham Army Air Field. She and many other Hollywood stars supported the troops through morale boosting visits and concerts during the war years.

 

Legacy of BAAF

100 (2)BAAF helped shape the community long after the base was closed as a number of the airmen who trained at Buckingham returned and made homes in Fort Myers after the war.

One was Oscar M. Corbin Jr. “My father had been stationed here in 1942 as a gunnery instructor,” writes his daughter, Virginia Henderson, a real estate broker in the firm of Corbin Henderson Company on Dean Street. “He married my mother in November, Oscar Corbin 11942 and they lived the first couple of years of their marriage here. Can you imagine the fun times they had as newlyweds in paradise?”

Corbin left the service in 1945 and eventually he and his young bride returned to Corbin’s home in Kentucky. But after six winters, he said to Mina (Wilhelmina) one day, “I am not going to spend another winter in this slop and slush. Let’s move to Florida!” “Yes,” reports daughter Virginia, “the memories of those times [at Buckingham] is why they came Historic Buck Airfield Photos 11back to Fort Myers in 1951.”

They visited Pruitt Farm Supply Store on the corner of Main and Monroe (where the Lee County Justice Center is today), and inquired if it was for sale. It was, and for the next 16 years, the Corbins where proud River District shop owners.

“In 1967, Dad was asked to run for mayor to complete the term oHistoric Buck Airfield Photos 09f office vacated by then-Mayor Paul Myers,” Virginia Henderson recounts. “Dad ran again in 1968 and again in 1972, serving for nine years.” As such, the man who first experienced the town of Fort Myers as a gunnery instructor in the Service came to lead the community for nearly a decade as its mayor. [Former Mayor Oscar M. Corbin Jr. died May 8, 2012.]

Historic Buck Airfield Photos 05Tennessee native Wilbur C. “Bill” Smith, Jr. arrived at Buckingham Army Airfield in 1942 and met and married Mary Alice Fohl on July 3, 1944. Mary Alice’s family had been in business in Fort Myers since the early 1900’s, and after his discharge from the service, Bill went to work for his father-in-law at Fohl’s Hardware in downtown Fort Myers, where he learned the business.

In 1954, Bill and Mary Alice founded Bill Smith, Inc. and Historic Buck Airfield Photos 06initially sold appliances, plumbing supplies, glass and paint. Although Bill and Mary Alice are both now deceased, Bill Smith, Inc. is still the leading appliance and electronics retail business in Lee, Collier and Charlotte Counties. During his life, Smith became a leader in the community, founding the Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce and the Horizon Council, and serving as a lifetime member of The Salvation Army Arc04864dvisory Board, chairman of the Advisory Board of the Fort Myers Port Authority and a member of Fort Myers Downtown Redevelopment Agency. He was also actively involved in the preservation of historic property in Downtown Fort Myers.

Another businessman with connections to Buckingham was Tommy Doyle of Flint & Doyle Structural Movers. Doyle was in the Army Air Corp. ferrying planes from Buckingham Historic Buck Airfield Photos 04Army Air Base to Altus, Oklahoma for storage. He too stayed in the area after his discharge, and his experience moving planes helped Flint & Doyle become one of the leading structural moving company’s in the United States.

For those who have an interest in learning more about this period of Fort Myers’ history, the archives at the Southwest Historic Buck Airfield Photos 03Florida Museum of History at the Imaginarium in downtown Fort Myers contains photos of many of the airmen who trained at Buckingham and Page Fields.

 

Location and Measurements.

  • BPAAM Close Up (3)The monument is located at 26d 38′ 42.7128″ N longitude and 81d 52′ 21.4962″ W latitude.
  • The entrance to Centennial Park is located at 2150 Edwards Drive.
  • To reach the memorial, follow the sidewalk past Uncommon Friends and to the right where it follows BPAAM from north (2)the banks of the Caloosahatchee River. You will find The Buckingham & Page Army Airfields Memorial in a grouping of palm trees just before you reach the boat ramp and parking lot.
  • The height, width and depth of the right and left markers is 37 x 36 x 8 inches.
  • The height, width and depth of the central monument is 61 x 36 x 8 inches.

 

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