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During WWII, there was an enormous demand for steel, aluminum and other metals that led the War Production Board to launch a nationwide campaign to salvage scrap metals. Individuals from state and local Defense Councils, to the Boy Scouts, combed local communities for sources of scrap metal that could be melted down and re-used for ships, guns, vehicles and other war materials.
As part of this effort, Florida's State Defense Council and the Department of Education teamed up to develop the Junior Scrap Army program in 1942. At the time, Colin English was the State School Superintendent and encouraged every pupil in Florida to collect as much scrap metal as possible and turn it in at their local schools, where it would be weighed. This fostered much competition among the schools in Florida, as whoever had the most scrap metal would be awarded a prize.
Soon, the enthusiasm sparked. When the dust settled, after a month of scrapping, Green Acres and Loxahatchee schools of Palm Beach County and Cape Florida School of Dade County emerged as the top collecting schools. Each school won the right to send a student to participate in the dedication of the Liberty Ship, which was named Colin P. Kelly, Jr., after Madison's most famous war hero.
The top three individual collectors also earned the right to attend and represent the state. These individuals were: Gwendolyn Willcocks, age 15, from Palm Beach High School, who collected 101,116 pounds of scrap metal; Betty Lou Smith, age 10, of Coral Gables Elementary School, who collected 156,160 pounds, and Dale Maxwell, age nine, of Pahokee, who collected a whopping 202,650 pounds of scrap metal for the drive. Joining them were Joseph Thibodeaux, Albert W. Thompson and Allen Shelton.
The students met in Jacksonville for a tour that included stops to Madison, Lake City and Tallahassee before heading to Mobile, Ala. for the dedication and launch of the Colin P. Kelly, Jr. According to The Florida Archives, Willcocks broke the traditional bottle of champagne against the hull while Smith used a hatchet to cut the ship loose and allow it to enter the water for service. Maxwell's enormous contribution to the drive made him both the state and national scrap collecting champion.
More information about Florida's contributions during WWII can be found at www.floridamemory.com. To view more photos of the Junior Scrap Army, visit www.floridamemory.com/blog/2014/06/04/floridas-junior-scrap-army-during-world-war-ii/.
Photo Courtesy of the State Defense Council of Florida
The family of Colin Kelly, Jr., stand in front of the U.S. Liberty Ship named in his memory in Mobile, Ala. Pictured, from left to right, are: Emy Kelly and Mr. and Mrs. Colin Kelly, Sr.