The Hideaway Times: Article
Tuesday, December 07, 2004
Coastal watchtower a sentinel
By AUDREY PARENTE | News-Journal Staff Writer
ORMOND BEACH — Within weeks of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 63 years ago today, the U.S. government took steps to protect this country’s shores.
More than 15,200 observation posts were established along the Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific coasts. This included 480 watchtowers constructed along the East Coast.
The significance of the watchtowers will be recalled today — the anniversary of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack — during a dedication at the site of one of the few remaining structures.
The 3 p.m. ceremony will be across the street from 2160 Ocean Shore Blvd., Ormond Beach, where the 30-foot-tall wooden landmark is nestled in the dunes.
The watchtower was painstakingly restored this year by The Emmer Group, a land development company.
Following the Pearl Harbor attack that killed and wounded more than 3,500 Americans, the United States military was vaulted into World War II. Watchtowers were seen as a line of defense for the country’s shoreline.
The observation posts were staffed by members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, Army Air Forces Aircraft Warning Services/Civil Air Patrol personnel and civilian volunteer spotters in the Ground Observation Corps.
“Not everyone in the Coast Guard was on a boat,” said William “Bill” Sorrentino, vice commander of Flotilla 44 of Daytona Beach and a U.S. Navy Vietnam-era veteran. Now a law enforcement officer for Volusia County, Sorrentino is a 31-year Coast Guard Auxiliary volunteer.
He is scheduled to be at the event with the Flotilla’s commander, Gretchen “Judi” Bacon, a retired nurse practitioner for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“They put us in cars on the beach and in watchtowers,” Sorrentino said of the role of the 1940s workers. “There was more than one watchtower in Volusia County, and others in Florida.”
Armed with binoculars, watchtower spotters monitored the skies for air traffic and reported any flights to a central station in Jacksonville where the information was cross-checked with authorized flight plans. Spotters also watched for signs of offshore German U-boats.
After the war, while most watchtowers disappeared, the one here was preserved by a veteran Seabee, Wayne Shaw, who made it part of a campground he ran from 1945 to 1978, according to his son, Warren Shaw of Daytona Beach.
A later owner, Jean O’Dell, also did what she could to preserve the tower, but it fell into disrepair and was cited by the Volusia County Code Enforcement Board.
Emmer bought the former campground properties to develop last year. The owners worked with the board and the Bureau of Beaches and Wetland Resources under the Department of Environmental Protection to acquire permits to restore the tower.
Absolute Engineering Group and Sun Country Builders completed the restoration, which cost more than $35,000. In the process the tower was disassembled board-by-board, then repaired and put back together.
Tom Scofield of the Volusia County Historic Preservation Board said the application to get the watchtower listed on the National Register of Historic Places will be reviewed in 2005.
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