We began looking at the Civil Air Patrol (CAP for short) last week. This official auxiliary to the United States Air Force provides leadership and real-world training to youth and adults around the country, while at the same time providing the vast majority of search-and-rescue missions in the United States.
Today (2019), the closest active Civil Air Patrol units are in Gainesville, Jacksonville, Tallahassee and Valdosta. However, it was not always so. Randolph (“Randy”) W. Mai, of Duval County, purchased property in Suwannee County in 1948 and moved to his new home shortly thereafter. He established the Suwannee Little Theatre (a local theater group) in 1950, and oversaw it for several years thereafter. Mai became head of Suwannee County Civil Defense in 1952. In addition, he was involved in many other local organizations. Between his various other duties and organizations, Randy Mai was also a pilot, and owned a house, hangar and airstrip on the Lake City Road.
As a result of his interest in flying and civil service, Mai was instrumental in establishing the Suwannee Squadron, Live Oak’s very own Civil Air Patrol unit. By 1951, the squadron was still commanded by Captain Mai, and was often in the newspaper for assisting in search and rescue missions. The Suwannee County Airport did not yet exist (that would come in the mid-1960s), and flights were probably carried out from Mai’s private airfield as well as others around the County. However, that would soon change…
Dr. J. Dillard Workman, formerly of Palm Beach County, had purchased property three and a half miles northeast of Live Oak along the White Springs Road (CR 136) in 1948, including nearly 40 acres just past where CR 136 now crosses Interstate 10. Dr. Workman, a volunteer with the Civil Air Patrol, set aside his property for use as a CAP airfield (apparently in 1950). Period newspapers state that Dr. Workman donated the property for CAP use, but County deed records show that he retained ownership of the property. Whether it was ever officially deeded to CAP or not, the airfield was named Workman Field in his honor. The airfield appears to have been a rather modest affair, with two grass runways, an adjoining hangar and other associated equipment and buildings.
However, Workman Field airfield did not go unnoticed by Florida or the United States, as it was the first (and at the time, only) airport in the nation registered with the National CAP Headquarters as being operated exclusively by an organized CAP unit. As the airfield neared completion, a dedication ceremony was scheduled for Jan. 21, 1951, with much fanfare. Representatives from the National CAP Headquarters in Washington, D. C. were to be on hand, including National CAP Commander Major General Lucas V. Beau (my son recently met his present-day successor while training at Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City). Also attending were Governor Fuller Warren, State Aviation Director Wally Schanz, Florida CAP Wing Commander Colonel Joseph Moody and CAP units from throughout Florida. Other well-known Americans who were slated to attend were Betty Skelton (misspelled “Skeleton” in the newspaper article), a women’s champion aerobatic aviatrix and pioneer, and Zack Mosley, creator of the “Smilin’ Jack” comic strip (which, when it ended in 1973 after 40 years of print, was the longest-running aviation comic strip in American history). The ceremonies were staffed with the support of the local Lions Club, Jaycees, Kiwanis Club, Rotary Club, Senior and Junior Women’s Clubs, Boy Scouts, Sea Scouts, State Troopers, Sheriff’s Office, Chamber of Commerce and many individuals.
We will complete our look at the Suwannee Squadron and Workman Field next week.
Eric Musgrove can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 386-362-0564.