I recently took my parents down to St Simons Island in Brunswick, GA to visit the World War II Home Front Museum. Located by the East Beach on 1st St just past the intersection of East Beach Causeway and Ocean Blvd, it’s housed in the Historic St Simons Island Coast Guard Station. The building and the ground sare beautifully maintained and the museum is split between the Station’s boathouse and the first floor of the Station itself. This museum is a bit different than many World War II museums in that it doesn’t concentrate on combat operations – as its name indicates, it concentrates on the war effort at home in the United States by telling the story of that effort in the Brunswick and Golden Isles area.
You enter the museum and begin the tour at the boathouse behind the Coast Guard Station. As soon as you enter, you see a large wall map showing the five important World War II locations in the Brunswick, GA/Golden Isles area:
- The Brunswick Shipyards
- Naval Air Station Glynco
- Naval Air Station St Simons
- Radar Training at the King and Prince
- Coast Guard Station
The Brunswick shipyards were in the area where the port facilities by downtown Brunswick are; when approach and go over the Sidney Lanier Bridge, if you look to the west you can see the shipyards’ slips. At the shipyards, 85 Liberty ships, vessels that played an important part in keeping the war effort overseas supplied, were build in just three years. Along with improved anti submarine warfare techniques, the number of Liberty ships built and the speed at which they were built helped the allies overcome the German Navy in the Battle of the Atlantic. Naval Air Station Glynco is now the Brunswick Golden Isles Airport. NAS Glynco was home to airships that played an important part in patrolling the US east coast as part of the fight against German U-boats, which took a heavy toll on shipping in the early part of World War II. Naval Air Station St Simons is now the Malcolm McKinnon Airport, not far from the Museum. Malcolm McKinnon Airport on St Simons Island was re-purposed during World War II as a Naval Air Station for training US Navy fighter pilots. During World War II, the King and Prince Hotel on St Simons Island was turned into a coast watching and radar training facility and US Navy and US Marine Corps fighter directors were trained there. From the Coast Guard Station itself, USCG personnel patrolled the Brunswick and Golden Islands shores for enemy vessels and saboteurs and performed rescues, such as those of the crews of the tankers SS Oklahoma and Esso Baton Rouge, which were torpedoed by the German U-boat U-123 off of Brunswick on 8 April 1942.
The Museum contains informative and interactive displays geared toward educating the general public about the war effort at home, such as in the Brunswick shipyards, what those at home experienced, such as rationing, and what the operations and training conducted at the area military installations were like. There are also displays of artifacts from the shipyards and facilities, including items rescued from one of the tankers sunk off of Brunswick – the Esso Baton Rouge. The Museum also utilizes volunteer veterans such as Mr. Atwater, who was there when we visited, to tell about World War II from their perspective. Additionally, there is a very good film, approximately 10 minutes long that shows visitors what the war effort in Brunswick and the Golden Isles was like.
The World War II Home Front Museum on St Simons Island isn’t a large museum, but if you live in the Brunswick/Golden Isles area or are visiting the area, it’s definitely a museum you should visit. It tells the story of an often overlooked aspect of World War II and tells it well. It’s part of the Coastal Georgia Historical Society and you can get combined passes to visit both it and the St Simons Island Lighthouse Museum.