HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY
The Lacoochee Aircraft Warning Service
Observation Post During World War II
By JIM ST. CLAIR
When Pearl Harbor was attacked on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941,
and WW II began, I was only 10 years old. But, I still remember the
excitement and anger felt by the people in Lacoochee.
Many of the young men in Lacoochee and elsewhere in East Pasco County
quickly volunteered to join the military and fight the war. Most of
those early volunteers were gone for four years or more, enduring the
hardships and danger that war entails. Some of them did not return.
Shortly after the attack, my father, Mark St. Clair, announced that
he was going to join the Army Air Corps. He decided that his place in
the war should be as a tail gunner on a B-17 bomber. He was short and
slender and said that he could easily fit into the small turret where
the tail gunner must sit. A few days later, he drove to Tampa to enlist,
but was rejected and classified as 4F because he had a short leg due to
a battle with polio when he was three years old. Reluctantly, he settled
back into his role as principal of the Lacoochee Junior High School.
Then, soon after the war began, the War Department realized that the
United States mainland was vulnerable to a surprise attack by enemy
aircraft. Consequently, the War Department established the Aircraft
Warning Service as part of the United States Army Ground Observation
Corp. Its mission was to keep watch for enemy aircraft entering American
airspace. Observation posts were needed all along the east coast from
Maine to the tip of Florida and along the entire length of the west
The U. S. Army staff selected the places where the observation posts
would be built. One of the places the Army chose for an observation post
was Lacoochee. They decided it should be on the hill where the Lacoochee
water tower stood. They constructed a small enclosed room on poles about
twelve feet above the ground to give it good visibility. The room had
windows on all four sides and a deck around the outside. Observers would
climb a ladder to reach the observation post.
The Army recruited civilian volunteers from East Pasco County to
become members of the Aircraft Warning Service and to serve as observers
in the observation post. The mission of the volunteer observers was to
look for and listen for airplanes. When an airplane was detected, the
observer made a telephone report to a Filter Center in Tampa. The report
had to include: the number of airplanes detected, the type of plane if
known, whether the planes had a single engine or multiple engines,
whether the planes were seen or heard, whether they were at high, medium
or low altitude, and which direction they were headed. The people in the
Filter Center, on receiving reports from several observation posts, were
able to determine where the aircraft were going and whether they were
American aircraft or enemy aircraft.
The observers in the Lacoochee observation post were trained to
recognize the type of airplane by sight and by sound. Army instructors
used black plastic airplane models to show the observers what the
airplane looked like from all angles. They left silhouettes of friendly
and enemy aircraft on the wall for the volunteers to study.
My father was one of the volunteers to work in the Lacoochee
observation station. Occasionally, I would stay with him during his day
time or night time shifts at the post. I was fascinated by the black
aircraft models and I studied the aircraft silhouettes on the walls of
the building until I was confident that I could recognize any aircraft,
friend or foe. When we saw or heard an airplane, I would readily offer
my opinion as to what kind of airplane it was.
By 1944, the war had become totally offensive and there was very
little chance that our enemies would have the resources to make an
aircraft attack against the continental United States. Therefore, on May
29, 1944, the War Department disbanded the Aircraft Warning Service. The
Secretary of War sent letters of appreciation to the Aircraft Warning
Service volunteers who had given so much of their time and effort to
help keep America safe from enemy attack. A year later the war was over.
As I was writing this story, I recalled those interesting and
sometimes exciting times that I spent in the Lacoochee Observation Post
during WW II. Maybe it was that experience that led to my career as a
pilot in the United States Air Force. Who knows?