April 16, 2022. I always joke with my friends that if there is a war memorial or a military cemetery in an area, Pieter will find it. So, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised this winter when we were in Florida and a fellow snowbird, retired US Army veteran Rick Greiner called and asked if Pieter wanted to visit the nearby site where American replicas of a WW2 era German V1 rocket were test-fired! (For information on V1 rockets, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V-1_flying_bomb or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V-weapons)
…A WWII era missile testing site in northern Florida….
Pieter and I were both surprised. We’d visited this part of Florida for over a dozen years and had no idea that a missile testing site was in the vicinity, located in the Coffeen Nature Preserve on Hwy 98 in Santa Rosa Beach, 17.7 km (11 miles) east of Destin. (See https://waltonoutdoors.com/military-relics-land-conservation-cohabitate-at-coffeen-nature-preserve/)
Rick explained that he’d been interested in WWII since childhood. “…My father served on 3 US Navy destroyers. He saw action from German 109 planes, submarines, artillery fire at Anzio, and Japanese kamikazes over Okinawa. He was in the Panama Canal heading to Japan when the atomic bombs were dropped….”
This led to Rick’s lifelong interest in the history of rocketry and atomic bombs. “…The areas that I studied were British code breaking with Alan Turing at Bletchley Park (been there), the making of the atomic bomb at Oakridge TN, Hanford WA, and Los Alamos, New Mexico where the gadget was assembled (been there). In 1957 my mother picked me up from school and said the world changed today- the USSR sent a rocket into space. The space race began. Rockets had been around for many years, but the Germans under Werner von Braun perfected them with the V1 and V2 rockets….”
….V for Vengeance…
The V in the German rockets stood for Vergeltung (Vengeance). How did a V1 end up in the USA, we wondered? In June 1944, Germany bombarded England with the V1s. In July 1944, parts salvaged by the Polish underground and recovered from crashed but unexploded bombs in England, were flown to Wright-Patterson Field in Ohio.
The remains were stripped apart and within three weeks copied to produce an American version, the JB-2. This operational guided missile was the predecessor of the modern cruise missile.
…Missile launch ramps and bunkers still exist….
Over 600 of the replica bombs were sent to nearby Eglin Air Force Base and then test-fired from a missile launch ramp at the Coffeen Nature Preserve. Two of those missile launch ramps and associated bunkers still exist. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Rosa_Island_Range_Complex)
Rick said that “… Around 4 years ago I read an article in the paper about 4 Mile Village’s rocket test site remains. I called the phone number and received no call backs, the next year we had a lot of rain and every time a date for a tour was made, it was cancelled. The same for the next year. Last year was Covid so we did not go to Florida…” (See https://www.browsedestin.com/blog/four-mile-village-miramar-beach-a-step-back-in-time.html)
This year Rick was determined to visit the site. Pieter was a bit cautious given the prevalence of Covid, but safety precautions were made and a group of veterans visited the site. Joining Rick and Pieter, a Dutch Air Force veteran, were retired US Marine Bob Young, retired US Navy veteran Dick Becker, retired US Army veteran Dr Ed Grayden, and Rick’s wife Mary Ann.
…Fishermen retrieved rockets that had been test-fired….
Their tour guide was Susan, who “… met us in one of the WW2 buildings for a lecture on the rocket and how the US military got some pieces/parts of the rockets and built one from scratch. Lots of errors, explosions, and, finally, takeoff. The rockets were sent down a 100 yard rail ramp, flew into the gulf, and Destin fishermen were hired to retrieve them for reuse…”
The Destin fishermen were especially brave given this cautionary sign at a dock at Lake Fuller in the Preserve!
“…The site became known as Range C64 and it was the start of the US strategic missile program….”
A short video shows a JB-2 bomb being launched in 1945. Take a look:
Rick summarized the visit by explaining that “…At the site one can walk down one of the ramps and go into a heavy concrete observation bunker. The main part of the 240 acre Preserve has trails to hike and enjoy the wildlife and plants. Our group had a wonderful afternoon of learning and experiencing the nature hidden from the houses, condos, and retail big box stores off Rte 98...”
…Interested to visit Coffeen Nature Preserve?….
If you are in the area and interested to see this piece of military for yourself, Rick advises that “…The tour is free but reservations are needed. Call Susan at 850-622-3700. It is across from Sandestin, and next to Tops’l Resort on Rte 98. She gives tours on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons. A code is needed to get through the gate….”
Thank you to Rick Greiner for organizing this event which brought a piece of WW2 history to life. Pieter said that “… it was very thoughtful of Rick to include me in this trip….” Pieter went on to note that during the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands in WWII, “…a lot of V2s were launched from the west coast of The Netherlands towards London….”
Now that our winter holiday is over, research on Canadian soldiers continues. If you have photos or information to share, please let Pieter know. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, comment on the blog, or tweet to @researchmemori1.
…Want to follow our research?….
Daria’s book ‘No Soldier Buried Overseas Should Ever Be Forgotten‘ is available in print and e-book formats. For more information see https://nosoldierforgotten.com/
You are also invited to subscribe to our YouTube Channel: On The War Memorial Trail With Pieter Valkenburg: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJ591TyjSheOR-Cb_Gs_5Kw.
© Daria Valkenburg