May We Never Forget

December 7th marks the 76th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  It s a day to honor the many who have served over the decades protecting South Dade, the Keys and our country.

   The attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor and other Pacific Ocean targets on December 7, 1941 came as a shock to our nation, but the people of Homestead were already seeing many actions being taken by our government in our preparation for war.  The predecessor newspapers to the South Dade News Leader in 1941were full of reports of young men enlisting in the armed forces and of those being drafted.  Several of them were sent off to aviation related schools in our country’s push to expand its military aviation strength.

   The land at Pine Island east of Homestead was being cleared for a civil air field being constructed with a military use in mind.  In 1942 it would become Homestead Army Air Field.  The U.S. Navy was building a 135 mile fresh water pipeline from southwest of Florida City to Key West to provide fresh water for the boilers of Navy ships.

   Politically, Homestead was at its apex.  Local men chaired the Dade County Commission and the Dade County School Board in the persons of J.D. Redd who had already served 18 years on the Commission and as its chair once before and C.G. Turner, the School Board.    

   Additionally, Homestead Councilman F.B. Rue served on the County’s important Budget Board.

   Growth in Homestead’s population was at 36% between 1930 and 1940 and Florida City’s was at 66%.

   Although Homestead’s population on December 7, 1941 was only between 3,100 and 3,500, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and other U.S. targets in the Pacific had a profound impact on six Homestead area families.

   On December 7, 1941 five young men from the Homestead area were serving our country in uniform in Hawaii and one in the Philippine Islands.  Two of them died in the attack on Pearl Harbor and one was captured by the Japanese, survived the brutal Bataan Death March and was a prisoner of war for the duration of WWII.

   Anderson Arrant and Earl Smith were serving in USS Arizona, now probably the world’s most renown battleship,  James Field was serving in USS Indianapolis,

Walter Thompson, Jr. was a Marine at Pearl Harbor, Lieutenant John M. Lee was assigned to USS Boise, a cruiser at Pearl Harbor and Louis Biondo was serving in the Army in the Philippines.

   Arrant and Smith were both killed in the attack, but it was five weeks before their families knew for certain of their deaths.  At that time a memorial service was held at the First Baptist Church of Homestead. 

   By October of 1943, 59 men and women from Homestead High School had joined the Navy including the coach, Ted Bleier; manual arts teacher, C.H. Rice; the girls’ physical education teacher Josephine Cook and two women who became WAVES: Birdie Horne and Bessie Chambliss.  This from a small city of at most 3,500 people!

   Anderson Arrant and Earl Smith were both awarded the Purple Heart posthumously in 1944.  It was not until 1948 that Earl Smith’s remains were returned to the U.S.  Anderson Arrant’s remains probably remain entombed in USS Arizona with hundreds of his shipmates.

   In 1945 the new Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4127 was named the Arrant-Smith VFW Post 4127.

   Louis Biondo was liberated from a Japanese POW camp in 1945 and returned home.  Also liberated in 1945 at the same time was Navy Machinist Mate First Class Donald Smith.   Petty Officer Donald Lonnie Smith was from Princeton.  He was serving in the submarine tender USS Canopus (AS-9) in waters around the Philippine Islands when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  Later on December 29 the Canopus was badly damaged in an attack by the Japanese and the crew scuttled her to avoid her falling into the enemy's hands.  Petty Officer Smith and other survivors joined the US ground forces defending Bataan and Corregidor.  He was captured on May 6, 1942 and sent to a prison camp on Tokyo Bay.  He was liberated in 1945.  He died January 2, 1975 in Collier County.

   Meda and I visited the USS Arizona Memorial and ran our fingers over the engraved names of Earl Smith and Anderson Arrant.  They are also remembered at the Veterans’ Memorial in Losner Park with other veterans.