By Sisco Deen
At daybreak on December 7, 1941, the U.S.S. Oklahoma’s band, under the direction of Chief Petty Officer James Brazier Booe, son of former Flagler County Superintendent of Public Instruction, Zeb E. and Ida Coffing Booe, was assembling on the deck at the American Naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii to render morning honors.
Shortly after the band’s assembly a few minutes before 8 a.m. local time on this otherwise calm Sunday morning, they found themselves under attack by Japanese military forces.
The surprise was complete. The attacking planes came in two waves; the first hit its target at 7:53 a.m., the second at 8:55 a.m. By 9:55 a.m., it was all over. By 1:00 p.m. the six carriers that launched the planes from 274 miles off the coast of Oahu were heading back to Japan.
Some 3,500 Americans, including Chief Petty Officer James Brazier Booe, were killed or wounded in the attack. Three hundred fifty aircraft were destroyed or damaged and all eight battleships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet were sunk or badly damaged.
Petty Officer Booe moved to present-day Flagler County from Fountain County, Indiana with his parents and four brothers in February 1913, when his father assumed the position as manager of Haw Creek Farms, which consisted of 1,975 acres of timber and farm land in the Haw Creek area.
His father shipped by freight two mules, two sows, and one milk cow in one end of a freight car and their furniture and a great deal of family supplies in the other. There was no place in Dupont to locate at the time, so the Booe family lived in a narrow gage box car on a side tract 1.5 miles from where they cleared land and built a house during their first year there.
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James’ brother, Harry Booe was the master fence builder. He lined out for a post setting of hard pine and with the help of some Black farm hands, dumped the wire fence around 360 acres of land, The fence was 4 feet high, made out of No. 8 wire, with barbed wire for the top and bottom of the fence.
The Booes constructed a road around each separate 40 acres of land. These roads were made by a light two-horse road grader.
A considerable portion of the land enclosed was prepared for cultivation and large crops of white Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, cabbage, corn, hay and various kinds of experimental crops were raised such as highland rice, oats, millet and corn, Kudzu plant for pasture, peanuts, carrots, cotton and a few other small varieties.
The Booes purchased a farm tractor and truck, and a potato grader. They built the first concrete silo in this portion of the state as well as the first dipping vat of livestock to eliminate the Texas tick fever. They also build a compost vat to dump the barnyard leanings which, when decayed, would be used for fertilizer.
The family built a potato and cabbage packing house with a cooper shop adjoining where they made potato barrels for their own use and many for the neighbors. (a cooper was the guy who rounded off the ends of a barrel using a tool called an adze). They also constructed a two-story storage house for the barrels.
They built a narrow gage railroad spur which came into the packing house next to a platform from which they would load cabbage crates or roll potato barrels onto a flat railroad car. The flat cars were sent to Dupont where their contents were transferred to box cars and sent on to their destinations. When the regular railroad to Dupont was converted to standard grade, the Booe’s converted their side tract to standard gage as well.
The conversion to standard grade railroad tract allowed farmers to send their crops direct to markets without re-handling in Dupont. Cabbage cars came already iced and were re-iced along the line when necessary.
James Brazier Booe left Flagler County and enlisted in the Navy in Jacksonville on June 4, 1919. He was immediately sent to boot training at Hampton Roads, VA. Early in his naval career he played trombone in the bands assigned to the U.S.S. Birmingham and the U.S.S. Cleveland
In the winter of 1925, he passed the examination for Band Master and began to serve as Assistant Bandmaster for the band stationed at Pensacola Naval Air Station.
In November 1927, he was transferred from the Pensacola NAS to the U.S.S. Wright (airplane tender) in port at Norfolk, VA, and in March 1928 he was assigned to the carrier U. S. S. Lexington based at San Pedro, CA.
James was back in Pensacola in 1932 as he was injured in an accident west of that town on Saturday, March 5, 1932. According to a story in The Flagler Tribune, he was returning from a trip to Alabama and about 40 miles west of Pensacola ran into the rear of a parked log truck.
In October 1934, he was promoted to Bandmaster and was serving aboard the U.S.S. California at Guantanamo, Cuba.
In October 1935, he was the Bandmaster on the U.S.S. Saratoga and was selected with his group of musicians to play aboard the cruiser U.S.S. Houston which was carrying President Roosevelt on his vacation tour.
Later James was transferred to the battleship Oklahoma and was aboard her when she was sunk at Pearl Harbor.
On June 11, 1942, the following letter was read to the Flagler County Board of County Commissioners and ordered spread upon the minutes as follows:
May 30th, 1942
To the Honorable Board of Flagler County Commissioners, Bunnell, Florida.
Today, May 30th, 1942 is another anniversary of National Memorial Day to pay tribute to all who have sacrificed their lives for our liberty and to reverently and tenderly place upon their graves the choicest of flowers and the sacred emblem of our liberties, The Star Spangled Banner, our glorious flag.
Today, we cannot pay that tribute to our very dear son, JAMES BRAZIER BOOE, at his grave in the bloody waters of Pearl Harbor, but today we unfurled that same symbol of liberty which for more than twenty one and a half years, he played daily, at sunrise and sunset he played honors, The Star Spangled Banner, and by that flag today as our grief gushed out through our tears, we placed our flowers.
We raised and transplanted the cedar tree which now stands in the concrete circle in the Court House yard opposite the flag pole to be a Christmas tree for the Children of Flagler County and hope that it may continue to be used for that purpose.
We wish at this time, with your approval, to hereby dedicate that evergreen tree as a living memory of our dear son, JAMES BRAZIER BOOE, Bandmaster on the U. S. S. Oklahoma when he lost his life while at his post of duty, December 7, 1941.
Very respectfully yours,
Ida M. Booe
Z. E. Booe
By motion duly made, seconded and unanimously carried, the Dedication of the evergreen tree in the front yard of the Courthouse is hereby approved.
In addition to having the evergreen tree in the front of the old Courthouse dedicated to him, the Disable American Veterans’ Post 86 in Flagler Beach is named in his honor.
During WW II, over 400 men and women from this small county with a population of just over 3,000, served our country with pride. They basically signed a blank check to the United States of America which said: “I will defend this county with my life if need be” – what a legacy!
In April 2005, The Flagler County Historical Society published a book entitled News about Flagler Countians in Military Service – World War II. The book was dedicated to the following Flagler County servicemen who died on active duty during that war:
- PFC Howard Samuel Bankston, USMC, Killed in Action, Peleliu Island, 20 Sep 1944;
- Bandmaster (CPO) James Brazier Booe, Killed in Action, Pearl Harbor, 07 Jan 1941;
- Pvt Tommy Buckner, Killed in Action, Italy, 01 Dec 1943;
- 1st Lt Joy Monroe Deen, USAAC, Killed in Action over France, 19 Jul 1944;
- PFC Julian Forrest Durrance, USA, Killed in Action, Europe, Western Front, Jan 1945;
- SSgt William Herbert Lee, USAAC, died of a heart attack, Courtland AAF, AL, 05 Mar 1945;
- Torpedo Man 3/c Marion Gordon McCraney, USN, Killed in Action, Solomon Islands, 15 Nov 1943;
- PFC Versie L Mitchell, USA, drowned, Burma, 19 Jan 1944;
- Cpl Lawrence B Pringle, Killed in Action, Saipan Island, 29 Aug 1944;
- Pvt Bob Rigleben, USA, Killen in Action, 11 Mar 1945;
- Aviation Machinist Mate (Gunner) Michael Louis Trad, USN, aircraft crash near Key West NAS, Jan 1945;
- PFC Willie Wilson, USA, killed in automobile accident west of Bunnell, 13 Oct 1945
News about Flagler Countians in Military Service is out of print but you can access the individual stories on our WW II servicemen and women on line by clicking here.
Sisco Deen is the archive curator for the Flagler County Historical Society and FlaglerLive’s historical adviser.