Sally Swartz: World War II memories draw visitors to Camp Murphy Day

A few of the buildings still stand as churches, homes, a community center, a bar and a garage in Stuart, Jupiter, and Hobe Sound. And traces of Camp Murphy’s 1,000 structures remain at Jonathan Dickinson State Park, where a $10 million village went up in three months during World War II.

From July, 1942, through December 1944, soldiers attended hush-hush classes in radar at the facility. Camp Murphy housed 6,000 people at a time and ultimately trained more than 20,000 soldiers.

It was an exciting time. Daughters of the camp’s commanding officers remember walking along Hobe Sound beaches with their mothers to watch for German submarines. Sighting a vertical stick in the water — a sub’s periscope — meant a call to Miami, and soon after, airplanes and fiery explosions offshore.

Memories, historical photos, 70-year-old artifacts, and local expert Ranger Barry
Richardson’s talk marked Camp Murphy Day at the park Dec. 12. Richardson has gathered camp memorabilia, interviewed people who were there and prepared a slide show and talk about the camp’s history at the park.

Sandy Doptis, daughter of Col. John A Ward, gave her late father’s collection of Camp Murphy artifacts to the park. Sally Green Ansell, daughter of the late Gen. James W. Green Jr., recalls that Camp Murphy was “our parents’ favorite duty station.”

The camp was “so important to the war effort,” Ansell said. “We had radar. The Germans didn’t.”

Maps, photos, dishes, camp newspapers and even a 1943 Christmas dinner menu — starring roast turkey with sage dressing, baked squash and mince pie — are part of the exhibit at the park’s Kimbell Center.

Camp Murphy had a post exchange, a movie theater, two chapels, a recreation hall, mess hall, hospital, and several classroom buildings.

Many photos show the men in sleeveless undershirts. Buildings went up so quickly that some were covered in black tar paper, with no siding. With no air conditioning, it was so hot that sometimes soldiers trained at night.

Richardson said Trapper Nelson, the park’s “wild man of the Loxahatchee,” was employed for a time to rid camp buildings of snakes and spiders. That ended when Trapper, a.k.a. Vincent Nostokovich, was drafted.

The camp’s mission to train radar operators was secret, Richardson said, showing photos of signs that read “Discussion of radar outside the classroom is forbidden. Keep silent.”

Richardson and the officers’ daughters recalled the “incredible hospitality” of Hobe Sound and Jupiter Island residents. Islanders loaned their homes to officers and their families. Jupiter Island’s patriarch and chief developer was “a wonderful friend” to Camp Murphy, serving as Army Capt. Joseph Reed, Richardson said.

The camp was named for Lt. Col. William Herbert Murphy, killed in action on a mission to set up radar in the South Pacific in 1942.

Though the camp’s buildings were sold and moved when the war was over, the park’s role as a site for communications devices continued. In the 1980s, a missile tracking annex was built in the park, with large satellite dishes set up to monitor NASA launches. A giant LORAN tower, decommissioned in 2010, recently was dismantled. Today, a Smithsonian telescope remains in the park to track satellites.

Richardson will retire in 2016, but passes along his work as historian to Libby Reinert, park services specialist. Both hope that programs about Camp Murphy will encourage residents to share artifacts they have saved or memories about the camp, which also employed civilians.

“I know they’re out there,” Richardson said. The Camp Murphy exhibit continues at the park’s Kimbell Center through Jan. 10.

Sally Swartz is a former member of The Post Editorial Board. Her e-mail address is [email protected]. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Sally Swartz


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