The horrific events that unfolded 77 years ago today at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii galvanized Americans like never before, from World War II’s front lines in Europe and the Pacific to the home front in communities across this nation.
Perhaps no community better exemplifies the contributions and sacrifices made here at home in response to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, than right here in the Golden Isles. From military training to civilian industry, Glynn County teemed with activity aimed at winning the war — so much so it would be difficult to contain all of the elements in one location.
Until now. The World War II Home Front Museum opens its doors to the public for the first time at 1 p.m. Saturday, located at the Historic Coast Guard Station at Coast Guard Beach on St. Simons Island. Exhibits, galleries, interactive media, personal recollections and more help bring to life the trials and triumphs of the war years in the Golden Isles, covering everything from the Liberty Ship-building yards on the Brunswick River to the deadly German U-Boat attack of two tanker ships offshore from St. Simons Island.
Tickets to the museum cost $12 for adults and $6 for children ages 12 to 6; kids 5 and under are free.
Saturday’s opening culminates four years of preparation on behalf of the Coastal Georgia Historical Society, which collaborated with designers of the National World War II Museum in New Orleans to bring the museum to fruition. Its opening to the public will be preceded Saturday morning by a private function featuring guest speaker Rob Citino, the senior historian of the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, La.
“We have been working on this project for four years, to bring this all together for the community,” said Mimi Rogers, curator for the historical society. “This museum encompasses everything that occurred here on the home front; it allows everyone to see that our community did so much for the war effort during World War II.”
Perhaps the most notable efforts unfolded at the shipyards run by J.A. Jones on the Brunswick River, which churned out nearly 100 Liberty Ships from 1943-45. The shipyards employed 16,000 women and men to produce the cargo ships that carried supplies and munitions to the warfront, turning a sleepy backwater into a bustling boomtown in the process.
Some of the best and brightest from the U.S. Navy and Marines were sent to a school established at the King and Prince on St. Simons Island, where they learned to harness the new technology of radar to the advantage of Allied air power. Naval pilot training occurred at present day St. Simons-McKinnon Airport, which also served as a base for the Civil Air Patrol’s monitoring of the coast.
Naval Air Station Glynco established its airship base at the present-day Brunswick Golden Isles Airport, from which blimps provided aerial escorts that kept offshore merchant ships safe from U-Boats.
The need for such escorts hit home early in the war. On April 8, 1942, a German U-Boat torpedoed the tankers Esso Baton Rouge and S.S. Oklahoma some 12 miles offshore from St. Simons Island, killing 22 merchant mariners. This deadly incident punctuated the need for the onshore blackouts of homes and businesses.
The blackouts, gas rationing, bond drives and other sacrifices of everyday citizens also are highlighted at the museum.
A gallery and exhibit will address each aspect of the local home front during WWII, including a Combat Information Center, and an iconic storefront from the WWII era. Interactive features will allow visitors to experience plane spotting, radar-directed aerial combat and, yes, Liberty Ship construction.
“There is also a 10-minute video introduction that outlines the story of what took place here,” Rogers said. “It puts it in context with what was happening in the war, and how things that happened here were so significant.
“And there will be a gallery devoted to each aspect of World War II on the home front,” Rogers added. “We wanted to put together a compelling story to tell, so that people of all ages would enjoy coming here to experience it.”
The World War II Home Front Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and from 1:30 to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Joint tickets to visit both the World War II museum and the historical society’s St. Simons Island Lighthouse Museum cost $20 for adults and $10 for children. Anyone with a personal military ID card received a $2 discount.