They call him “Boats.” He’s the man in the sailor’s cap with his hands stuck deep in his peacoat’s pockets. He stands 7 feet tall and weighs in at about 1,000 pounds. You can’t miss him.
He’s one of Baldwin Park’s newest neighbors, calling Blue Jacket Park home.
He lives alone, but he’s not lonely. Boats’ family stretches to nearly 650,000 people deep – each one of them having once stood on the ground he now calls home. All half a million of them trained at the Orlando Naval Training Center that once operated on the ground now home to Baldwin Park.
Boats is a testament to each one of them, a sailor cast in bronze standing watch over Blue Jacket for the rest of his days. He is Orlando’s own Lone Sailor Memorial, modeled after a second-class Navy petty officer boatswain’s mate.
“For all of us here in Central Florida... we value the Navy, we value the role that this property has played and we are absolutely thrilled that there will be a lasting memory of the service and sacrifice of our Navy sailors here forever and eternity,” said Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs at Boats’ unveiling ceremony on April 2.
For 30 years, from 1968 to 1998, Blue Jacket Park served as a hub for training exercises for sailors in training. When the base was closed, the buildings were torn down to rubble. Baldwin Park would develop from the newly clean slate.
But members of the Central Florida Navy League realized the slate had been laid so clean that there was no marker commemorating the Navy’s history on the land at all. Many Baldwin Parkers ran laps and played catch on the lawns of Blue Jacket Park, not knowing the name Blue Jacket came from a ship that once docked on the land they now use as a park.
Four years ago, members of the Navy League sought to change that. That’s where Boats came in.
The Navy League started a fundraiser to install a Lone Sailor Memorial statue on the lawn of Blue Jacket. There are 14 such memorials across the country, each cast in bronze, each depicting a sailor gazing into the distance, his hands stuffed in his coat pockets.
“The whole idea was... that there wasn’t solid evidence to everyone that is a citizen of Central Florida on the huge Navy presence and impact that the Navy had on this community,” said Central Florida Navy League President Bill “Roto” Reuter.
“We’re glad to be able to be part of the team that is honoring, recognizing and institutionalizing that contribution into the ethos of Central Florida.”
Boats stands on a paved platform in Blue Jacket, many of the bricks below him engraved in honor of his 650,000 comrades who served at the Orlando Naval Training Center. Beside him sits his sea bag and cleat, both cast in bronze weighing roughly 700 pounds. Behind him an American flag flaps overhead along with the breeze. Soon a history wall will be installed, recalling the Navy’s history in Orlando. And next, Roto said, the Navy League hopes to raise funds to make Boats less alone. They want to add a female statue by his side, commemorating the fact that the Orlando Naval Training Center was home to the first co-ed Navy boot camp.
“This park serves as a thank you to all of our veterans and active duty military and their families,” said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, “and will be an inspiration for our youth and a reminder to all of us of the military service of our brave men and women.”