Clewiston – During World War II, in an unlikely clearing between the Everglades and fields of sugar cane, two allies came together in a mutual struggle to defend the free world.
It was 1941. Winston Churchill appealed to the United States to provide war materials and pilot training for defense against a superior German air power which was pummeling England. Cadets were unable to train there because of horrible weather conditions and "the Nazis had a nasty habit of shooting down anything that flew."
President Roosevelt executed the Lend Lease Act and six British Flying Training Schools – in California, Arizona, Oklahoma, Texas and the #5 BFTS, at Riddle Field near Clewiston.
Near the southwestern shore of Lake Okeechobee, basic training began with British cadets receiving extensive training in formation flying, acrobatic maneuvers, armaments and instrument navigation.
The British cadets were warmly received by the locals and, as flight instructor Reed Clary recalls, "They were royally treated and, to the cadets, this was heaven in itself." Between September 1941 and September 1945, 2,000 Royal Air Force and more than 100 American cadets were trained and graduated as pilots.
Some British fliers never returned to Europe to fight the war: 23 cadets killed during training lie in the British plot in Arcadia's Oak Ridge Cemetery. They are remembered each year by the people of that city. After the war, present-day Airglades Airport was built over the runways of Riddle Field.
Little remains of the old hangars that housed the World War II planes, but a small museum contains artifacts, photos, correspondence and publications regarding those desperate days. Learn more at clewistonmuseum.org.
Beyond the museum, Clewiston has much to feed your sense of adventure.
At Billie Swamp Safari on the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, the airboat and swamp buggy tours expose visitors to wild Florida and alligator, bison and ostrich.
Billie's Swamp Water Cafe serves alligator tail nuggets and frog legs or, for the faint of heart, more traditional fare.