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Naval Station Mayport by the Sea

So we finally got on base and it was worth the wait. Our site was not in the first row by the main channel coming into the St. Johns River but we had a great view looking northeast as ship traffic entered and departed the the port facilities associated with the Port of Jacksonville. The Navy Base maintains a floating barrier with armed patrol boats to keep out any unofficial vessels.

This strategic location has a very long history. In 1562, French Huguenot Commodore Jean Ribault, then said to be the greatest captain on the seas, was selected by the famous Admiral Gaspard de Coligny to lead an expedition to Florida; his mission was to form a French Protestant colony. Ribault arrived off what is now known as Mayport, near the mouth of the St. Johns River, on May 1 of that year. Landing on the north side of the river, now Ft. George, it is said they offered up prayers while the Native Americans looked on with attentive silence. They were received warmly by the Native Americans, including Saturiwa, their chief. Through old maps, there is evidence of continuous occupation of the naval station site by Native Americans, Spanish, English, and Americans since the 16th Century.

During the Revolutionary War period, Florida was occupied by the English. The river was patrolled by a group of British vessels called the St. Johns Fleet, whose duty was to prevent American sympathizers from crossing the river from the south side to the north. During this time, many Spanish citizens moved into the Mayport area from the New Smyrna colony. Many of their descendants still live in the City of Mayport, adjacent to the naval station.

At the outbreak of the American Civil War, a Confederate company from Jacksonville, the Jacksonville Light Infantry, set up a fort on the present naval station. They named it Fort Steele in honor of their commanding officer, a medical officer named Dr. Steele. Steele was soon transferred to the Confederate Medical Corps and command of the company was assumed by Captain Doggett. Because the fort was considered indefensible, the guns were buried and the Jacksonville Company was made part of the main Confederate forces in Tennessee. A number of years before the Navy acquired this site, these guns were discovered near the present pilothouse and were recovered.

Mayport’s location has given its home ported ships many opportunities to participate in both military operations and several other national interest projects. On Feb. 23, 1962, the Mayport based USS Noa (DD-841) was a recovery ship for the Mercury space capsule Friendship Seven and Astronaut Lt. Col. John Glenn, Jr., the first American to orbit the Earth. On June 11, 1965, the carrier USS Wasp brought Lt. Col. Jim McDivitt and Lt. Col. Ed White and the Gemini 4 capsule to Naval Station Mayport following their completion of 62 Earth orbits in four days.

During the period from Oct. 21 to Nov. 22, 1962, Mayport naval station was deeply involved in the “Cuban Missile Crisis.” The Second Marine Division set up an advanced staging area on the station.

Our three days on base included a wonderful meal a the Seaglass Wine Bar. We enjoyed sharing a huge Caesar salad and a creamy pesto sauce fettucine with pawns with two wine drinks for $36! On Thursday afternoon I wanted to take the truck in for an oil change and new fuel filters. While driving to the diesel service shop we turned over 100,000 miles and I knew we needed to get some other items serviced as well, so we scheduled all day Friday to have those items addressed. We dropped off the truck Friday morning and rented a car. We spent the day driving around the Jacksonville area. We checked out the JAX international airport, drove through the downtown civic center and looked at a number of new KB Home developments. The area is very appealing and on our list of possible places to land someday.


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