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Yellow Water Nuclear Weapons Storage Area | Photo © 2018 Bullet, www.abandonedfl.com

Yellow Water Nuclear Storage Area

Location Class:
Built: 1952 | Abandoned: 1999
Status: AbandonedRestored
Photojournalist: David Bulit

NAAS Cecil Field

The Yellow Water Nuclear Weapons Storage Area was a top-secret location used for storing nuclear armaments during the Cold War. Shortly before the United States’ entry into World War II, a 2,600-acre tract of land was purchased in western Duval County and construction began on U.S. Naval Auxiliary Air Station, Cecil Field (NAAS Cecil Field). Operating at full capacity during the war, it became the principal war-at-sea and dive-bombing training center for the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps. It was a pilot’s last stop before being assigned to combat on either the Atlantic or Pacific fronts.

At the end of World War II, NAAS Cecil Field was disestablished and eventually redesignated as Naval Air Station Cecil Field (NAS Cecil Field) on June 20, 1952. The station was rejuvenated as an operating base for fleet aircraft squadrons and air groups, bringing about the “jet age” for Naval Aviation in the Jacksonville area. NAS Cecil Field’s growth was accelerated when it was designated a master jet base specifically used for the operation of carrier-based tactical jet squadrons.

1445px F 18Cs over NAS Cecil Field 1994
U.S. Navy Captain M. H. Kennedy, commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CV-60) leads a flight of McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C Hornet aircraft to Naval Air Station Cecil Field. The 21 aircraft from Cecil Field’s own Strike Fighter Squadrons VFA-81 and VFA-83 were returning home from Saratoga´s last deployment to the Mediterranean Sea before decommissioning.

Yellow Water Nuclear Weapons Storage

It was around this time that the United States and the Soviet Union were stockpiling nuclear armaments in preparation for a possible all-out nuclear world war. The Yellow Water Weapons Department was established at Cecil Field but its purpose was kept a secret from the general public.

Security and Inventory

Marines stationed at Yellow Water spoke about security details to an editor of Leatherneck, a magazine for United States Marines, which published four articles about the complex in the summer of 1983. According to the articles, “The Pound” as it was called by Marines, was patrolled on foot and utilized surveillance cameras, sensors, and searchlights to keep watch along the fences. The security units in the locked area were armed with M-16 automatic rifles, M-10 shotguns, and M-60 machine guns.

There were 89 ammunition bunkers, ranging from small buildings for high explosives to earth-covered bunkers with reinforced concrete doors for nuclear weapons. They reportedly had elaborate security systems that would sound high-frequency pitches capable of destroying the eardrum or releasing toxic gases into the air.

The annex remained a secret to the general public until 1985 when two nuclear weapons researchers, William M. Arkin and Richard W. Fieldhouse, published a book called Nuclear Battlefields: Global Links in the Arms Race, identifying the base as a storage site for 140 nuclear depth bombs, as well as conventional weapons. Unsurprisingly, the Navy never confirmed or denied the storage of nuclear weapons in the Jacksonville area. Those who knew about the weapons turned a blind eye to it, seeing it as nothing more than just business. Others weren’t too happy about convoys carrying nuclear weapons through downtown Jacksonville and over the bridges.

nascecilfld weps gate insig 7 651
The original mascot for the Yellow Water unit. WPLA.net
Decommissioning and Reuse

On September 27, 1991, President George H. W. Bush announced that all nuclear weapons would be removed from Navy ships and Air Force planes in the first step toward dismantling them. The last of the weapons were loaded onto trucks on October 1, 1993, to be dismantled at the Department of Energy’s Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas.

Cecil Field was decommissioned in 1999 and turned over to the city of Jacksonville for redevelopment and later converted into Cecil Commerce Center. The Jacksonville Equestrian Center, the Jacksonville Aquatic Center, a community center, a softball complex, and other amenities are on the north side of the base where Yellow Water was located at.

A few structures and the earth-covered bunkers where the nuclear armaments were stored are really all that’s left of the Yellow Water Compound. Barbed wire fencing still surrounds the area. The foundation for a helicopter landing pad can still be made out with sprigs of weeds poking out of the concrete. Despite that, visitors are still not allowed and those caught there will be considered trespassing.

You can read about the Yellow Water Nuclear Weapons Storage Area and many other abandoned places in my books, Abandoned Jacksonville: Remnants of the River City and Abandoned Jacksonville: Ruins of the First Coast. Also available on Amazon and your local bookstores.

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David Bulit is a photographer, author, and historian from Miami, Florida. He has published a number of books on abandoned and forgotten locales throughout the United States and continues to advocate for preserving these historic landmarks. His work has been featured throughout the world in news outlets such as the Miami New Times, the Florida Times-Union, the Orlando Sentinel, NPR, Yahoo News, MSN, the Daily Mail, UK Sun, and many others. You can find more of his work at davidbulit.com as well as amazon.com/author/davidbulit.

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