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The stretch of land in northeast Lee County was largely used for cattle grazing. But once Pearl Harbor was bombed, everything started to change. Soon, the rustic land became Buckingham Army Airfield and played a crucial role in the war effort.

Pre-war, Lee County was largely rural with only about 17,500 residents. Shortly after the U.S. entered the war, the county’s airport (now known as Page Field) was leased to the Army Air Force in February 1942 and used for bomber training and as a base for anti-submarine patrols in the Gulf. Col. Jimmy Doolittle’s B-25 bombers landed there during training before their raids on Tokyo. At the time, the Army was desperate for a location for a flexible gunnery school, meaning a place to train service members who operated the machine guns on aircraft. The county leased land to the Army in early 1942 and by July, Buckingham Field was activated.

According to the Florida Division of Historical Resources, 483 buildings were constructed, including seven mess halls, six runways and 24 hospital buildings. An Army colonel called it “the ugliest field in the entire nation.” It may not have been pretty—but it did its job. About 48,000 gunners were trained at the airfield, which eventually encompassed 50,000 acres. Aircraft such as the North American AT-6C-NT Texan trainers (pictured above) were often buzzing high above Southwest Florida. The Naples Army Airfield flight training school, now Naples Airport, served as a sub-base for Buckingham.

As war came to a close, so did the military’s use of the airfield; the base was closed in September 1945. Lehigh Acres was eventually built on most of its land, and Buckingham Field now serves as the base of operations for the Lee County Mosquito Control District.

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