110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Pat Andrews
posted Dec 6, 2012 - 8:01:23pm
When the DeLand Naval Air Station celebrated its 70th anniversary on Nov. 17, Virgil Linder of DeLand was there. He was also there 70 years ago, when the air station was originally commissioned on Nov. 17, 1942.
He attended this year’s event as an honored guest of the DeLand Naval Air Station Museum, which sponsored the celebration.
“My name’s in the records out there at the museum,” he said proudly.
Virgil’s wife, Ruth, whom he met here in DeLand during his World War II service, and a son, Vernon, and Vernon’s wife, Carolyn, were there with him during the emotional day.
An Iowa native, Virgil said, “I joined the Navy the third of February, 1942, after Pearl Harbor,” and none too soon for the young man who didn’t want to be in the Army.
“I got a draft notice the day I left for active duty,” he said.
Virgil attended boot camp at Great Lakes, Ill., then reported to the U.S. Navy facility in Jacksonville, where he trained to be a cook.
The U.S. Navy seaman’s rationale for cooking was pure logic. After standing in lines at the Great Lakes chow hall, Virgil discovered he wanted to be where the food was — not waiting in line.
He arrived for an 18-month stay in DeLand when construction was starting, but the base wasn’t open yet.
“They sent me and another man to DeLand,” Virgil said. “They gave us subsistence money and told us we’d have to find a place to stay and a place to eat.”
Virgil found a bedroom in a house on the northeast corner of Church Street and Woodland Boulevard, which has since been torn down. Across the street, where Bank of America now stands, was a filling station, a house and a church.
He remembers eating at Red Anderson’s Restaurant in Downtown DeLand. Anderson was a redheaded Swede who also owned some orange groves, Virgil recalled. Virgil also ate a few times in a restaurant called Dominic’s that was located where Hunter’s is now.
Once he started mess-hall operations, Virgil ate most of his meals there.
Trains brought rock and sand to a depot where College Arms Towers now stands, and waiting trucks loaded the materials and hauled them to the naval air station, where they were used to build runways.
Virgil met Ruth, who was attending DeLand High School at the time.
“I got her phone number and called her,” Virgil said.
Ruth told her mother about Virgil’s call. Mom worked at the DeLand Naval Air Station, and she checked out Virgil before she let Ruth date him. That led to wedding bells, but after Virgil was transferred back to Jacksonville.
The DeLand Naval Air Station was complete when Virgil ended his 18-month stint here. He earned second-class rating while at the air station.
The only thing missing was the Navy WAVES (Women Appointed for Voluntary Emergency Service) contingent, which came a little later. Women have been part of the Navy ever since, though the acronym WAVES stuck.
Virgil transferred from Jacksonville to Whidbey Island in Washington state, then to California for a short time, before shipping out to Okinawa in Japan. Ruth stayed in Washington state while Virgil went overseas.
“Our group went ashore about a week before the war was over,” Virgil said.
That was in August 1945, but Virgil’s group remained in Okinawa until mid-October, living in tents.
“I got back to the States the first of November,” and then he was discharged from the Navy, Virgil said.
He and Ruth returned to DeLand — Virgil had grown to like the warmer climate.
Virgil went to work at Railway Express, but, “I was the last hired and the first fired,” he said.
So, Virgil used his GI benefits to go to barber school. He went to work at Floyd’s Barber Shop at 104 W. Rich Ave., then several other shops. Lately, he’s been at Freddy’s Old School Barber Shop at 106 W. Rich Ave., where he still works part time two days a week.
Ruth, who was a secretary at DeLand High School for 20 years, is retired.
“We’ve been married 67 years,” Virgil said.
They raised their two sons, Vernon, who lives locally and works for Lowe’s, and Donald, who now lives in Illinois and is in the insurance business.
DeLand has changed tremendously over the years, Virgil noted.
He remembers Orange Belt Pharmacy’s location on the corner of Rich Avenue. Its most recent location on East New York Avenue used to be the Dreka Theatre.
Betty Dreka had a dress shop next to the Whitehair Building that housed J.C. Penney. In the basement, where Mainstreet Grill is now, was Penney’s shoe department.
There were a fish market and a vegetable market downtown, and a hotel on the corner of New York and Florida avenues, which is now a parking lot for the Volusia County Historic Courthouse.
From his post at the barber chair, Linder is still watching the changes.
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