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History and Heritage

Where One Sailor Stands Alone

Lone Sailor Orlando

Standing in the shadow of one of the country's most famous vacation destinations, a robust Sailor gazes out toward a field where hundreds of thousands of Sailors have stood before him.

This "Lone Sailor" is reminiscent of the men and women who once marched in step on the grinder and stood with their heads held high, reveling in the joy that boot camp graduations often bring.

More than fifty million people visit Orlando each year to enjoy attractions such as Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and SeaWorld. But for many men and women, this city is more than theme parks and attractions: It's a Navy town, the springboard to their naval careers.

"The city of Orlando really loves the U.S. Navy," said retired Capt. Andy Mohler, co-chairman, Lone Sailor Memorial Committee. "They have always honored the traditions in the fact that this was a Navy town and still is a Navy town."

Naval Training Center Orlando was built on the grounds of a World War II Army Air Corps base. Commissioned July 1, 1968, NTC and its primary tenant command, Recruit Training Command, trained and educated generations of naval recruits.

"The establishment of NTC/RTC marked the city as a 'Navy Town,'" said retired Senior Chief Petty Officer Mike Phillips, who has close ties to the Orlando community. "This was a point of pride in a very patriotic part of the country. NTC/RTC brought in thousands of recruits a month, and an appropriately sized senior staff to train them."

Over a 30-year span, more than 652,000 Sailors graduated from RTC, while officers, non-commissioned officers and civilian personnel worked, trained and lived near the base, bringing revenue and naval culture to landlocked Orange County, Florida.

It was very important for 30 years as recruit training camp. It was a major part of the cultural fabric, as well as the economic fabric, of Orlando." - Andy Mohler

Two photo collage: RTC Orlando RDC yelling at recruit circa late 1980s; posted closure of RTC Orlando.

Recruit Training Command Orlando revolutionized training when it became the first coeducational training center in the United States military. Female naval recruits had previously trained separately at the U.S. Naval Training Center in Bainbridge, Maryland. They had separate commanders, companies and barracks until 1985, when the Navy integrated the recruit training process.

"These women were always trained apart from men," said Phillips. "With societal changes in the late 60's and early 70's, the Navy needed to move forward with fully integrating women, and we are proud that Orlando was chosen for this unique honor.

"The Navy has been at the forefront of social change," he added. "In many cases, it has been ahead of other services, and certainly ahead of our society. RTC Orlando and the support staff were true Navy pioneers in the integration of women into coed training."

More changes came in 1993, when the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) committee called for the closure of NTC Orlando, and the transfer of RTC to Great Lakes, Illinois.

"People would come up to me in tears in the Orlando community about the demolition of the base," said Mohler. "They didn't understand why their base is going away."

Former graduates and employees of the base also felt a sense of sorrow.

"As a graduate of RTC Orlando, and then later working on base as a civilian, I had a lot of good memories. ... When the decision was made to close the base, there was a little sadness, but ... things change in the Navy," said Rob Matthews, former president of the Navy League of Central Florida.

The Navy said its final goodbye to NTC in the fall of 1999, selling the property to the city of Orlando. The land was redeveloped into Baldwin Park, a mixed commercial and residential neighborhood. Within the development, Bluejacket Park sits where the parade field once stood.

"The great thing about Bluejacket Park today is it's one of the most vibrant places and it's one of the very few places that you can still recognize if you knew what was there before," Mohler said.

Phillips and his wife, Diane, visited the site not long after NTC was redeveloped into Baldwin Park. They hoped to find a dedication or memorial to the many Navy Sailors who had passed through NTC/RTC, but no significant historic markers recognized its military significance. They thought something else needed to be done.

We visited the park to see what may have been done to commemorate Navy Orlando. Although we discovered a beautiful park on the former grinder with nice landscaping and many sports venues, there was very little identifying it as a site with a rich Navy history."
- Mike Phillips

Phillips wanted to pay tribute to the roughly 652,000 men and women who started Navy careers from this hallowed ground. After approaching the Navy League for support, Phillips led a team of volunteers and worked closely with the City Parks Department, the architectural firm that designed Bluejacket Park and the Navy Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C., for several years. The team adapted the famous Lone Sailor statue into a memorial to honor Sailors past, present and future.
Three photo collage of Bluejacket Park: Lone Sailor statue; water fountain; back of statue facing park.

"Our goal was to design a first class memorial and to interface with the existing park architecture," Phillips said. "We had no idea of the complexity of this project when we started, but our Navy League Council is all about dedication and is blessed with many great volunteers who never quit."

The Central Florida Navy League Council and the city of Orlando finally dedicated the Lone Sailor, April 2, 2016. He now stands at the edge of the former parade field, guarding the same spot where recruits once marched in precision.

"Initially, there wasn't as much recognition of the Navy roots of that area, but now with the addition of the Lone Sailor statue, it's brought back that Navy focus," said Matthews. "I think we will be able to remind folks of the Navy heritage."

"It's used heavily almost every day of the week," added Mohler, especially for Navy re-enlistments, retirements and memorial ceremonies.

Indeed, the Lone Sailor represents the thousands upon thousands of men and women who became Sailors on this revered piece of ground.

"Boats, as we call the Orlando Lone Sailor, stands watch over the hallowed ground where so many young men and women became Sailors and shoved off on their individual Navy careers," said Phillips.

The Lone Sailor statue ... marks the sacrifice that the young men and women made over 30 years. It's really trying to tell a story of what happened on that piece of ground that is fading from people's memories." - Andy Mohler