This weekend marks the 60th anniversary of the day American troops stormed the beaches of Normandy. As many as 30,000 GIs trained for the D-Day invasion at the north Florida costal community of Carrabelle. For decades the role Camp Gordon Johnson here in Florida played in D-Day was overlooked, but what few veterans remain are struggling to keep the memory alive
GIs stormed the beaches, they trained in the brush, they fought mosquitoes as they practiced fighting the Germans. This training wasn’t in some far away place, but here on this serene beach 50 miles south of Tallahassee, John Gilbert came in late
"The barracks were tar roofing and all over the top, sides, and all. They had sand floors, home made bunk beds,” he says.
At any given time, 30,000 GIs trained here. For thousands of GIs the amphibious training the got on this beach was the last training they got before they shipped off to England for D-Day, or on to the South Pacific.
David Butler is the president of the Camp Gordon Johnson Association. He says, "I’ve seen records that say a quarter of a million came through here in total but that’s probably an upper number. You had all service training, people did basic training here."
After D-Day, the training continued, using nearby Dog Island to practice parachuting onto islands in the south pacific.
Andrew Smith was on the final jump in 1945 that claimed 10 lives when wind carried GIs into the water.
"See we were in actual simulated combat, felt like we were taking the island. We found out that we actually had ten men missing," says Andrew.
One of the few remaining buildings is this vault used to secure the payroll. Gone too are many of the men who trained here.
Camp Gordon Johnson was named for a Spanish American war hero and has remained virtually anonymous for the last 60 years, but thanks to volunteers, the story on the vital role this area played in winning WW II is finally being told.