Saturday is Armed Forces Day, a day set aside to honor Americans serving in the five U.S. military branches – the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Coast Guard. It’s also an opportunity to highlight Kissimmee’s role during World War II and how its electric utility helped power the war effort.
The Japanese attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941, ushered in an era of unprecedented activity for Kissimmee’s electric utility, then called Kissimmee Light & Water. Utility personnel coped with shortages of manpower and material, while trying to keep up with defense-related load growth.
The primary task the utility staff faced in early 1941 was supplying adequate power to a new U.S. Army Air Corps Training Field in Kissimmee.
The airport opened in April 1940 as the Kissimmee Municipal Airport. By 1941, it was taken over by the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) as part of the expansion of defense forces in the U.S. prior to World War II. The city closed the airport to civilian traffic in early 1942, and the Army Air Corps took possession of the facilities in January 1943. During the next 2-1/2 years, as many as 2,000 pilots, pilot-trainees and support personnel were housed at the training base. In 1945, the first U.S. jet aircraft were secretly tested at the base.
Kissimmee Light & Water had little problem in supplying the airfield off West Vine Street and all its facilities – control tower, maintenance shops, barracks and mess hall – with electric power. But there was little surplus to spare for load growth in the community.
At Kissimmee Light & Water, employees pitched in to help win the war. In their spare time, they planted Victory Gardens, collected scrap for the war effort, rolled Red Cross bandages for the sons and daughters of Osceola County residents scattered on far-flung war fronts across the world, and worked with the personnel at the Kissimmee Army Air Field to sell war bonds to help finance the nation’s military efforts.
The collapse of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in 1945 was cause for celebration. But it was also the end of an era. The city’s light and water department would enter the postwar world prepared to play a key role in the greatest economic boom in the history of Central Florida.
The lifting of wartime restrictions on generating equipment in late 1945 came none too soon for Kissimmee Light & Water. Although the Kissimmee Army Air Field had wound down military operations by early 1945 and sold much of the facility back to the city of Kissimmee, load growth was predicted to be substantial in the immediate postwar era.
The intense military activity of the war years had exposed thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen to the climate and economic opportunity of Florida. During the 10 years following the war, hundreds of former Kissimmee Army Air Field residents would move to Osceola and Orange counties.
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