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Tom talks about Howard England

Posted Aug 27, 2014 Posted by Be the first to comment

Hambright_englandI first read an article about Howard England and how Admiral Brush, Commander of the Naval Base, in response to a question from Action Line in the Miami Herald “What happened to Fort Taylor?” sent Howard to find the answer. Howard was a Civil Service architect in the Public Works Department of the Naval Station and the Navy’s expert on local history.
He found Fort Taylor covered with sand and material from the property disposal department (a fancy military word for junkyard). He was able to answer the newspaper’s question but it had sparked a desire to find out more about the Fort and what was under the sand. This soon became his mission (obsession) to save the fort. With impressed labor, mostly his family and anyone he could find, they started a digging that would last 15 years.
I did not realize it at time but the article was either by Ida Woodward Barron or had been arranged by her. At the time Ida was working in the Naval Station Public Affairs Office. She generated many articles, researched and provided the documentation that result in the fort being declared a National Landmark. In addition, in her duties with the Navy, she knew the news/TV people in South Florida and was able to meet visiting writers, that result in reams local and national publicist about Fort Taylor and the one man mission to save it.  Working with her brother Dr. C. Van Woodward, the leading Southern Historian of his generation, she was able to bring history professionals in the effort to save the fort.
I left Key West for sea duty. In the mid-1970s,  I returned and became the Security Officer for the Naval Air Station. The Air Station then controlled all the Navy land which included Truman Annex and Fort Taylor. I found Howard still digging as a volunteer.
By this time Howard had brought on a new powerful volunteer in his fight to save the fort. He had Congressman Dante Fascel working on the project. He was one of the most powerful congressmen and his district included South Dade and the Keys.  He and his staff spent countless hours working on the cause. All the efforts came together and Fort Taylor was given to the state for use as a park in 1976 and Howard became a Park Ranger.
Mission accomplished, well not quite. The state had a park but not a road across Navy land to allow public access. So I ended up enforcing the law on land that I had no jurisdiction. Working with Howard and Ida, we were able to get passes for people working with them and get some visitors to the fort, but not the general public.
So as part of duties I would stop by the Fort on my weekly rounds. Howard had started building his models of the fort and guns and it was easy to see that he was a master model builder. I found that he had been building models of airplane since child hood
I left Key West on other Navy duties but returned on my retirement and was able to be here on at the fort in August 1984 to see Howard retire get some on the recognition that was due for all the years of hard work.
He was now retired from Navy Civil Service and the Florida Park but anybody that knew Howard knew his was not finished. He went back to his first love model building. By this time I had become the Monroe County History at the Key West Library and he soon had me searching for plans and photos of airplanes involved in Key West History that he would use to build models. As I lived nearby I would stop to bring some plans or photo that I had found and to see the model in progress. He crowning achievement as a model builder was the model of the battleship Maine that is now on display in the Custom House museum. Of course he did not stop with that model. One of the the conversation I had with Howard he was planning a model of the WWI airship or blimps that were in Key West.
Howard lived to see the park open to the public and become the number one attraction in Key West. He died in 1999.
If your children or grandchildren tell you that in modern world one person cannot make a difference to change the world for good take them to Fort Taylor State Park and tell them to look at one man did.

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