Last updated: September 21, 2023
Established in 1914, the Naval Air Station Pensacola (NASP) had long been considered the "Cradle of Naval Aviation." Training received through NASP programs produced pilots with advanced combat skills capable of operating the most advanced aircraft of the day. NASP graduated 28,625 pilots during World War II, nearly half of the naval aviators who served. Eglin Army Air Field, one of the largest installations of its kind, served as an aircraft armament proving ground and a research and development facility.
NASP advanced training was essential in the Pacific Theater. For example, in 1942, Army Air Force Lt. Colonel Jimmy Doolittle trained his pilots (“Doolittle Raiders”) at Eglin for their dramatic bombing raid on Japan's capital, Tokyo. Sixteen B-25 Bombers, who trained at Eglin, launched a successful attack forcing Japan to redesign its coastal defenses as a result.
NASP tripled from training 800 to 2,500 students every month, and expanded to include the Naval Photography School, which became the largest specialized program of its type in the world. Additional programs included the Navy’s only School of Aviation Medicine for qualifying flight surgeons.
Escambia County and the City of Pensacola preserves and honors their community’s WWII heritage and achievements through the establishment of museums, parks, and monuments. Landmarks such as Barrancas National Cemetery, the National Museum of Naval Aviation, and the World War II Memorial in Admiral Mason Park are present-day examples of Pensacola’s commitment. Pensacola’s Veterans Memorial Park contains multiple memorials that remember the nation’s veterans; one of the most prominent is the World War II monument.
Many African Americans in Pensacola volunteered to support the war effort despite racial segregation and discrimination in the armed forces. The history of Pensacola’s African American WWII veterans is interpreted at the Chappie James Jr. Museum in downtown Pensacola. The museum preserves the childhood home and honors 4-star Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr., a native of Pensacola, and his extraordinary career as a Tuskegee Airman. The “Chappie” James House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NR) in 2000.
The community preserves the historic locations of the training operations and graduates of NAS Pensacola that were paramount to the advancement and success of the United States in World War II. The Pensacola Naval Air Station historic district was designated as a National Historic Landmark (NHL) in 1976. Fort Barrancas was designated a NHL in 1960 and listed on the NR in 1966. The NAAS Corry Field historic district was determined to be locally significant in 1984. The Saufley Field historic district was found eligible for listing in the NR in 1996. Fort Pickens and its surrounding historic district were listed on the NR in 1972. Barrancas National Cemetery was listed on the NR in 1998 and continues to be open to the public.