My father, John E. “Jack” Voisin, was stationed at Miami Beach, Florida for basic training from August to September 1943. He returned there in March 1944 for air crew classification processing.
The United States Army Air Forces operated Basic Training Center #4 at Miami Beach. Jack was housed some of the time in the Netherland Hotel, a seven-story ocean-side hotel on the beach. This sounds luxurious, but as early as 1942 the Army Air Force had bought or leased 452 hotels and converted them into schools and barracks to process the huge number of recruits.1 He later stayed in “tent city,” which was a vast group of canvas tents.
Jack was an 18 year old from Michigan who also liked photography. He took several photographs of the South Beach area along Ocean Drive, among the Art Deco hotels where he stayed and underwent training. He sent these prints home and wrote descriptions on most of them for his parents. In studying these I discovered some details that are historically very interesting. Even though Miami Beach was a paradise, it was essentially a military installation. It was guarded against enemy attack; something you would not consider while sitting on the beach today.
Jack’s room is marked by a small arrow on the fourth floor, right corner, of the building. It was right across the street from the beach and ocean. He wrote, “Home–Netherland Hotel. This is the hotel. I took it at about 7:30 P.M. and the sun was just about down. You can see about a half of a flight marching [by].”
The beach had search light towers. Jack wrote, “I took this from the top floor of the hotel facing south. You can see a search light above the trees.”
The beach also had .50 caliber machine gun emplacements. Jack wrote, “Here is a guy climbing up to get a coconut. The tent you see is for the guys that guard the beach. They have a .50 machine gun near it.”
The threat of enemy submarines was real. Here a dirigible is probably patrolling the waters for submarines. Jack wrote, “This is the beach [across] the street from the hotel. I took it in order to get the [dirigible] on it. Some times they come right over the hotel.”
Vintage photographs can sometimes reveal interesting clues about the past, as these did about war-time Miami Beach.