uring the early days of World War II, the Fort Harrison hosted benefits for the American Red Cross and was a collection point for two relief efforts Bundles for America and Bundles for Britain which provided food, clothing and other emergency supplies to civilians overseas affected by the war.
As did all hotels in the area, the Fort Harrison contracted with Uncle Sam to house the platoons of U.S. Army and Air Force personnel pouring into Florida for military training. Designated Clearwaters safest building in the event of an air raid, the Fort Harrison was stripped of its luxurious furnishings and reuniformed with hundreds of army cots of olive drab. Though now austere by Fort Harrison standards, the accommodations were luxurious to soldiers of the 588th Army Airborne Squadron billeted there, who wrote letters home bragging about their sumptuous new lodgings.
The Fort Harrison and the rest of the city soon shifted from entertaining snowbirds to entertaining the troops. Local merchants stayed open late to accommodate soldiers who were on duty until 6 p.m. Dances were held for soldiers, and society matrons entertained officers wives for tea.
Guest columnists soldiers from the 588th wrote for the Clearwater Sun, regaling the general public with the exploits of their fellows. One column told of the story of a private, the dishwasher at the Fort Harrison, who fell asleep under the sink and awoke trapped surrounded by stacks and stacks of dirty dishes and pans that had been piled around him during his nap. Another column warned soldiers in the squadron band not to practice their instruments on the roof of the hotel.
When a second bugler arrived to the 588th, the columnist wrote:
588 now has the distinction of having two buglers. The new one is from Winston-Salem N.C. His calls have a strictly southern drawl to them in contrast to the other bugler who hails from New York. ... Now the squadron has two people to hate instead of one, and the gals have two buglers to swoon over at retreat.
The local papers faithfully recorded the names of those who shipped out, praised their acts of bravery and mourned those who were lost. Though the young men were from parts far and wide, Clearwater proudly adopted them as native sons.
By the summer of 1943, the last of the military had left for the front and by December of that year the hotels 17th season serving the Clearwater community the Fort Harrison was back in the luxury hotel business, gearing up for a new influx of tourists.
Goings-on at the hotel were regularly reported in society pages of the Clearwater Sun; this entry appeared just before Christmas 1944:
At the Episcopal Young Peoples League dance the other night, Jim Hammond stood at the top of the balcony stairs of the Ft. Harrison Hotel ballroom with pretty Peggy Moor all ready to lead the grand march. Suddenly, he let out a gasp, tore down the stairs, into the elevator and out of the hotel to the florist. He had forgotten the large bouquet of pink chrysanthemums he was to present to Peggy. But he had remembered it just in the nick of time and, hurrying like the dickens, he made it back to the ballroom as the opening strains of White Christmas indicated the beginning of the march.
War ended and an era of post-war prosperity ensued. Business picked up and the hotel business was soon thriving again as the Fort Harrison approached its silver anniversary.
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