By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer
During World War II, bombs fell almost daily on Passage Key, an island north of Anna Maria in the mouth of Tampa Bay.
The island has since mostly disappeared, a victim of time and shifting sands, but between 1943 and 1945, the former bird sanctuary was used as an air-to-ground gunnery-training site.
Long-time Anna Maria resident Jim Adams, who was a child then, remembers that time.
"They bombed there all the time," he said a few years ago. "It was loud and quite exciting to a boy then. At one point, one of the bombs went astray and landed on a house just south of what’s now the Waterfront restaurant."
Adams said that after the war, he and his friends, including Hugh Holmes and Pete Moore, would row over there.
"Sometimes Hughie and Petie and I would row over there and find shell casings and other things," he said. "In retrospect, that probably wasn’t too smart."
The Anna Maria Island Historical Society has a wealth of information about the Island’s participation in the War.
There were two machine gun installations on the Island — one at Coquina Beach and one at Bean Point. An occasional shell casing from a .50 caliber machine gun still washes ashore on increasingly rare occasions.
Dances were held for the service men in what’s now the Island Players Theater at the corner of Gulf and Pine.
Now, nearly 60 years later, the Army is seeking information about Passage Key as it tries to determine what munitions debris might still be around the island, which was used as a ground strafing and dive-bombing practice range.
Army Corps of Engineers personnel went out to do a survey recently, but on the day they went, Passage Key was completely under water.
The key once was home to a thriving bird population and still carries a federal designation as a national wildlife refuge.
However, storms in recent years have severely eroded the island, only portions of which are visible at low tide. In fact, the key has been broken up into several small sandbars, which remain popular destinations for local boaters.
During its recent survey, the Corps’ inspection team did not have equipment to do any underwater work, and the report concluded that there was no need for cleanups or further sampling. No munitions were found.
However, the Corps is continuing its review of the site and is still looking for information from people who may have seen or known about the use of Passage Key as a bombing range.
Contact the Corps
If you have information about the use of Passage Key as a World War II gunnery range, please contact Project Manager Charles Fales, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 701 San Marco Blvd., Jacksonville, FL 32207. You can also e-mail him at PublicMail.CESAJ-CC@saj02.usace.army.mil.
You also can attend a Military Munitions Response Site Prioritization Protocol coordination meeting from 1 to 3 p.m. Wednesday, March 5 at Fort DeSoto Park, 3500 Pinellas Bayway S. Tierra Verde, St. Petersburg, FL 33715.