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Friday, May 25, 2018
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Steve Otto Columns

Tampa’s role in a century of conflicts

Driving down the Bayshore the other day I glanced out over Hillsborough Bay. A huge tanker plane was making a gradual sweep that would bring it into MacDill Air Force Base a couple of miles south of me.

I’d just read a story reminding us that Saturday marks the 100th anniversary of the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the beginning of World War I, which they used to call The Great War or The War to End All Wars.

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My guess is most of you are like me; you grew up vaguely remembering a picture of some overstuffed guy with a mustache — it would have made retired baseball pitcher Rollie Fingers proud — sitting in the backseat of a car and presumably about to be assassinated. The caption beneath the photo would add that his assassination led to the start of World War I.

My guess also is that, like me, that was about the extent of what most of you knew about the archduke as well as the machinations that stumbled much of the world into conflict.

We all should have been paying more attention. My feeling is that the assassination not only kicked off the first world war, it also began a series of conflicts that would lead to World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam and much of the mess we’re embroiled in today.

None of this is any kind of historical revelation, but I think it’s interesting that Saturday marks the foundation of a series of wars spanning 100 years that today is coordinated from a military base on Tampa’s Interbay peninsula at a place once known as Catfish Point.

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Tampa has a long history with the military. It goes back long before this century of conflict, to the days of the Indian wars and then the Civil War.

It continued through the arrival of the Rough Riders on their way to Cuba during the Spanish-American War.

About the time the first world war began, there were military operations going on. Benjamin Field, where the Rough Riders had pitched their tents, was used to train pilots.

Later on, the field would become the site for Fort Homer Hesterly Armory, which is about to become the Jewish Community Center on Howard Avenue.

The city’s darkest moment during WWI came on Sept. 26, 1918.

The Coast Guard cutter Tampa, on escort duty from Gibraltar to the Irish Sea, was torpedoed by a German submarine. She sank rapidly with all 131 hands, including 23 from Tampa.

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There is an argument thatTampa’s growth as a modern city came out of World War II when tens of thousands of members of the military branches came through for training — many of them coming back after the war to settle and raise families.

The military presence would continue through the Cold War and hotter ones in Korea and Vietnam as Tampa’s importance as a military and strategic center continued to grow.

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I think it is a bittersweet story.

I was sitting with my almost 93-year-old mother the other day. She lived through much of that, working at the shipyards in WWII and later traveling around the globe as an Air Force wife.

She was watching the latest news from Iraq and shaking her head at the violence and wars that haven’t ended in her lifetime, and likely won’t.

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