Imagine it’s 1943, in the midst of World War II, and you’ve stopped in at a lunch counter in Stuart, Florida. In making small talk with the uniformed soldier sitting next to you, you learn that he’s stationed at nearby Camp Murphy. You ask what he’s training for, and he shrugs and nonchalantly replies that he’s in radio school.
As the old adage goes, that’s what they all say. In reality, Camp Murphy was home to a secret radar training program established by the 801st Signal Training Regiment of the U.S. Army. The Army Signal Corps had been experimenting with radar since the 1930s at its school in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. With a war underway, however, the need for trained radar technicians was growing rapidly, so the Corps decided to open up a new location someplace with better year-round weather.
The Martin County site the Corps selected was perfect for the task at hand. The camp was constructed on a tract of about 8,000 acres located between U.S. Highway 1 and the Florida East Coast Railway near Hobe Sound. The dense forest covering much of the land was ideal for concealing the operation. As new buildings were constructed, the builders painted them a dull green to help them blend in with their surroundings. Roads criss-crossed the property, but in a haphazard pattern rather than in a grid. No trees were cut unless it was absolutely necessary. The idea was to camofluage the installation as well as possible.
The camp was named for U.S. Army Colonel William Herbert Muprhy, a pioneer researcher in the radar field whose aircraft had been shot down over Indonesia by the Japanese. Construction began in March 1942 and was far enough along for the camp to open in less than three months’ time.
Once complete, Camp Murphy was almost a city unto its own. It had a railway station, post office, cinema, library, and bowling alley, in addition to the usual accouterments of an Army training base. Although the soldiers training at the camp traveled often to nearby Jensen Beach, Hobe Sound, and Stuart, they were sworn to keep the true purpose of the base secret. This was also the case for the numerous local civilians who worked on the base as nurses, secretaries, carpenters, and general laborers.
The average training course at Camp Murphy required about five months to complete. Classes on radio and radar operation were interspersed with target practice and combat training, aided by the dense vegetation covering the property.
By the end of 1944, the camp had served its purpose, and the Army Signal Corps chose to close up shop. Most of the camp’s equipment was shipped up to Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, or to Camp Crowder in Missouri. The buildings and property became surplus, subject to disposition by the U.S. War Assets Administration.
After the war, several possible uses were proposed for the camp. In 1946, state officials contemplated using the base as a new tuberculosis sanatorium. The idea was eventually withdrawn, on account of Camp Murphy’s isolation and the difficulty of getting personnel and supplies to the area. Senator George Smathers offered the installation as a candidate when the Air Force began looking for a new location for an academy. Although Senator Smathers did his best to sell Camp Murphy and its seasonable climate, this plan also fell through.
Ultimately, Camp Murphy ended up becoming a state park in 1950. It was called Jonathan Dickinson State Park, named after a man who was shipwrecked in the area in 1696 with his family. Native Americans discovered the family and other survivors, but permitted them to travel north to their home in Pennsylvania.
Florida made many contributions to the war effort during World War II. Learn more in our World War II unit in the Online Classroom.