July 19, 2013
By David Bauerlein
Seven decades after Pearl Harbor, Anne Craig Beere’s memories still burn brightly of her father, Navy Lt. Cmdr. James Craig.
She remembers those Sundays when the family ate waffles for breakfast, headed to the Hawaii beach for picnics and spent many an afternoon playing mah jongg.
In her mind’s eye, she can visualize her father returning home after a day’s work.
“I was 13 when he was killed, 72 years ago,” she recounted Friday at a dedication ceremony for the James Edwin Craig Memorial Pavilion in Jacksonville. “But I can still see him coming up the sidewalk in his uniform, glad to be home to his wife and two girls.”
With the dedication of the pavilion, the Jacksonville Aviation Authority added another dimension to the civic remembrance of Craig, a Jacksonville man who was killed Dec. 7, 1941, during the Japanese attack.
The pavilion bears a plaque honoring Craig and overlooks the runway of Jacksonville Executive at Craig Airport.
“It’s an opportunity to pay tribute to the military, their families and the namesake of this airport,” aviation authority Executive Director Steve Grossman said. “His service and his sacrifice will never be forgotten.”
City Councilman Bill Bishop, whose Arlington district contains the airport, said the pavilion recognizes all those who have served at military installations in Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia.
“This is a great way to honor the local heroes past and present and pay tribute to all that they do,” he said.
Craig’s name has been attached to the airport since 1946, but three years ago it appeared his legacy was fading with the passage of time. The aviation authority initially followed a consultant’s recommendation to rename Craig Airport as Jacksonville Executive Airport.
But the authority reconsidered and has called it Jacksonville Executive at Craig Airport since 2011.
The $176,000 pavilion contains a sheltered public observation area with benches where people can sit and watch planes take off and land. There is a plaque describing Craig’s military career and also a timeline of the airport’s history.
When Japanese bombers attacked Pearl Harbor, Craig had been working an overnight shift on the USS Pennsylvania, which was in drydock for repairs. The Pennsylvania opened fire on the Japanese attack planes. Craig was killed in the battle.
Back home, his wife and daughter huddled against an interior wall, away from the windows in fear that explosions outside would shatter the glass, Beere recalled. It was a Sunday morning, which would have been a family day if Craig had returned. He was 40 years old.
On Friday, his daughter was joined by three of his grandchildren and a great-granddaughter at the pavilion dedication. They traveled from Texas.
“We were so honored when the airport was first named after him, and this memorial is icing on the cake,” Beere said.
His grandaughter Jean Arden Beere said the aviation authority’s recognition goes beyond the Craig name.
“The sacrifice he made represents the sacrifice a lot of people made, and we’re honored that he is a symbol of that generation,” she said. “He represents the local boys of Jacksonville and the sacrifices they have made for this country.
“It’s not just a name. It’s a representation of that generation and of future generations to come.”
David Bauerlein: (904) 359-4581