During the Cold War and just before the United States entered into World War II, the United States government purchased a 2,600-acre tract of land from Duval County Florida. Immediately construction began on what was to become the U. S. Naval Auxiliary Air Station, Cecil Field (NAAS Cecil Field). The field was named in honor of Commander Henry Barton Cecil, USN, who died in 1933 in a crash on the Navy USS Akron.

Getting it started in 1944, the base was operating by 1943 full capacity as the war-at-sea and dive-bombing training center for both the Navy and Marines. Before pilots were assigned to combat in either the Atlantic or Pacific fronts, it was their last stop.

Disestablished as the NAAS Cecil Field at the end of the war, it was re-designated as the Naval Air Station Cecil Field on June 30, 1952. The station had been rejuvenated as an operating base for fleet aircraft squadrons and air groups who were ushering in the “jet age” for Naval Aviation in the Jacksonville area.

Around this period, the United States and the Soviet Union were both stockpiling nuclear arms, for a possible nuclear war. For this reason, the Yellow Water Weapons Department was kept a secret from the general public.

Manned by watchtowers with Marines armed with M-16 rifles was the Yellow Water Weapons Storage Area for nuclear and conventional weapons. The property had motion detectors with high-intensity red lights and was enclosed by a lethal-looking barbed-wire fence.

One could only enter the property through a guard shack that had a bullet-proof glass, and you had better have an official reason to be there. Without one, you were promptly turned away.

The site remained a mystery for years. Then in 1985 William M. Arkin and Richard W. Fieldhouse, both nuclear weapons researchers published the book Nuclear Battlefields and the secret was made public.

A couple of years before the book being published, Marines station at Yellow Water did have a conversation with an editor of Leatherneck magazine regarding their security details. They revealed the Marines patrolled the “Pound” on foot, with video cameras focused on the fences and gates. The security details were armed with M-16 automatic rifles, M-10 shotguns, and M-60 machine guns. Flying lower than 3,000 feet was illegal.

The Marines removed the weapons in the early 1990s and 1999 Cecil Field was decommissioned. The area was turned over to the city of Jacksonville for redevelopment. The Cecil Field is now the home of the Cecil Commerce Center, the Jacksonville Equestrian Center, and the Jacksonville Aquatic Center. On the northern part of the base where the Yellow Water area sat a community center, softball complex, and other amenities.

The earth-covered bunkers where nuclear arms were stored, as well as a few structures, are all that remain. Still guarded by the lethal-looking barbed-wire fence, the helicopter landing pad can still be made out. Visitors are still not allowed and those caught on the property will be charged with trespassing.

Photograph of the guard station credit: The Jaxson

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