Boca Raton Army Air Field
At the beginning of World War II, Boca Raton Mayor J.C. Mitchell convinced officers of the Army Air Corps to move its technical school for radar training from Scott Field, Illinois, to Boca Raton. “Radar,” an acronym for radio detection and ranging, was a new top secret technology at the time. A small airport stood just north of the present Glades Road to the west of downtown. Here the land was relatively high and dry, yet close to the ocean and shipping lanes with a good climate for flying. The decision was made - Boca Raton was to be home to the Boca Raton Army Air Field (BRAAF), the Air Corps’ only airborne radar training facility during the war years.
BRAAF offered classes for electronics and radar officers and related specializations for enlisted men.
Thousands of men took their radar training at Boca Raton, including all the Army Air Force’s flight crews.
Pop-singer Tony Martin, some of the Tuskegee Airmen, the crew of the Enola Gay, and future astronaut
Gus Grissom all served a brief time at Boca Raton.
The former Boca Raton “airport” quickly grew as hundreds of structures were constructed north of
Palmetto Park Road to Yamato Road and from Dixie Highway to what is today the CSX (Amtrak) tracks.
In addition, the military took over the Boca Raton Club for housing and classrooms from 1942 until
1944. Although hotels up and down the southeast coast of Florida were commandeered by the military
for similar purposes, few were as luxurious as the Club. Eventually even the glamorous resort
succumbed to overcrowding and wartime conditions. “Foxholes” covered the golf course and the
antique furnishings were packed away.
number of African-Americans, who were commonly housed and trained in separate facilities during the
days of segregation. Additionally, women enrolled in the WACs (Women’s Army Corps) served at the
The impact of the presence of an important military facility on the little town of Boca Raton can hardly be imagined today. Although we do not know exactly how many people were stationed at the base between 1942 and 1947, as many as 15,000 students came through each year during the peak years of 1942 -1943 and 1943 -1944. In addition to the enlisted personnel, as many as 1500 civilians were employed on the base at one time during the war years. The permanent population was a little over 700 individuals. Every available room or house in town was rented.
The Boca Raton Army Air Field continued to operate as a military installation until September of 1947, when a
nasty hurricane struck Boca Raton, causing extensive damage to base buildings and widespread flooding. In
1949, the Town of Boca Raton purchased 2400 acres of the former air field property from the U.S. government
for $251,284. Today the northwest section of the former Boca Raton Army Air Field is the site of two younger
“installations” of great significance to the community: Florida Atlantic University and the Boca Raton Airport.
And if you look hard enough, you can still detect some aged cracked asphalt – the “apron” of the landing
strips, where B17s, B25s, and C47s once parked.