View historic photos of St. Augustine when it was a US Coast Guard station during World War II (1941-1945).
Established on August 4, 1790, the U.S. Coast Guard has kept the nation’s waterways safe, playing a critical role in national security. Every year, August 4 is celebrated as the U.S. Coast Guard Birthday, commemorating the military organization for its valor and discipline.
Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, founded the Revenue Marine — which later became the U.S. Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard is one of America’s five armed forces and traces its founding to Aug. 4, 1790, when the first Congress authorized the construction of 10 vessels to enforce tariff and trade laws, prevent smuggling, and protect the collection of federal revenue. Responsibilities added over the years included humanitarian duties such as aiding mariners in distress.
The service received its present name in 1915 when the Revenue Cutter Service merged with the U.S. Life-Saving Service to form a single maritime service dedicated to the safety of life at sea and enforcing the nation’s maritime laws.
The Coast Guard is a multi-mission, maritime, military service and the smallest of the five Armed Services. Its mission is to protect the public, the environment and U.S. economic interests in the nation’s waterways, along the coast, on international waters, or in any maritime region as required to support national security.
A Coastal Lookout Building was constructed at the St. Augustine Light Station in late 1941-early 1942 after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. However, life had not changed dramatically on the East Coast. Americans still felt a sense of separation the war. The sinking of the SS Gulf America off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida in April 1942 changed that feeling. Candlepower in the lighthouse was reduced. Blackout curtains were required in every home, and cars drove without headlights. The war was close by.
U-Boat 123, Korvettsenkapitan Reinhard Hardegen was on his second patrol to the Americas. The mission was to interrupt British supply lines and demoralize everyday citizens. On his first journey, he sailed into the harbor of NYC and looked out at the American shoreline. Now, Hardegen prowled the St. Johns County and Duval County coast before finding a target for his torpedoes.
He mentioned “the slender lighthouse” in his logbook, and noted how clearly the coast could be seen without binoculars. The explosion of the SS Gulf America could be seen for miles. Eyewitnesses rushed to the beach to watch as Hardegan surfaced his U-boat between the tanker and the shore and fired on the vessel to finish it off. Despite being hit by depth charges, U-123 managed to escape and limped back to Germany.
Not long after in June 1942 German spies from Operation Pastorius choose Ponte Vedra (and New York) as landing sites. A submarine surfaced in view of the shore and four men disembarked, buried explosives, and caught a bus to Jacksonville. At least one of them spoke perfect English. The FBI learned of the operation when one of the NYC team became nervous and reported the others. Buried on Ponte Vedra beach were blocks of TNT molded as soap for the laundry, a “pen” that could start fires, and a detonation device. The four spies from Ponte Vedra were executed within weeks of landing.
The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard responded with beach patrols using Jeeps, horses and guard dogs. Armed guards were stationed at St. Augustine Lighthouse to watch the sea 24 hours a day. The passing of each friendly ship was marked with a board and a string. Coordinates were radioed to U.S. Naval Headquarters at Government House, and the next watch station was alerted. The men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard, trained at St. Augustine’s Flagler College and all over St. Johns County for service around the world.
Thousands of veterans’ artifacts are preserved in collections at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum. More details at www.staugustinelighthouse.org/explore-learn/collections-conservation/
Visitors honor their loved ones in the US Coast Guard or other military branches with engraved bricks, which support the nonprofit Museum and help preserve the rich past of the St. Augustine Light Station. Find out about bricks and naming opportunities here: staugustinelighthouse.org/get-involved/museum-difference-makers/bricks-naming-opportunities/
ST. AUGUSTINE, FL – The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum will commemorate the 75th Anniversary of D-Day on Thursday, June 6, 2019 with special programs honoring our military. The ongoing programming will take place from 10 AM to 6 PM, with free admission for veterans and active U.S. military on this day.
The Museum will display “Field of Honor” signs on the front lawn of the Keepers’ House honoring friends and loved ones who have served. Donation is $50 per sign. To honor your loved one, order your sign online below, or please contact Tresa Calfee at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 904-829-0745, ext. 212.
Donations will go toward our upcoming permanent WWII exhibit, which will include items that relate to St. Augustine during World War II. The exhibit will display some of the 2,000 items currently housed in the Museum’s collection.
“Our collection primarily relates to United States Coast Guard (USCG), including the Women’s Reserve known as SPARS, with material specifically related to the people that trained or were stationed at the USCG centers in St. Augustine,” explains Jason Titcomb, Chief Curator at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum. “The breadth of the historic materials include military uniforms and accessories, military equipment, USCG training material, local USCG newspapers publications and primary source documents specific to the St. Augustine Lighthouse while it served as a coastal lookout for national defense.”
The collection also contains oral histories and photographs belonging to military personnel and residents in St. Augustine and North Florida region. These photographs and personal accounts bring to life the significance that the community played during World War II.
The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum is conducting an oral history project focusing on the legacy of Northeast Florida during World War II. Our mission is to preserve these stories for future generations. We are looking to hear from anyone who served in the war, lived in the area during the war, or have relatives whose stories you would be willing to share. If interested please contact Jay Smith at email@example.com or call 904-829-0745 ext. 240 for more information.
The Tin Pickle Local Gedunk will serve food throughout the day. A gedunk is a canteen or snack bar aboard a large vessel of the U.S. Navy. This WWII-themed eatery features baked goods, specialty hot dogs and sandwiches, snacks, house-made fudge, sangria and locally brewed beer.
For more details about the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, visit staugustinelighthouse.org or call 904-829-0745. Stay updated on social media at facebook.com/staugustinelighthouse, Instagram.com/stauglighthouse, and twitter.com/firstlighthouse
ABOUT THE ST. AUGUSTINE LIGHTHOUSE & MARITIME MUSEUM:
A defensive and navigation tool and landmark of St. Augustine for 145 years, the St. Augustine Light Station watches over the waters of the Nation’s Oldest Port®. Through interactive exhibits, guided tours and maritime research, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, Inc. is on a mission to discover, preserve, present and keep alive the stories of the Nation’s Oldest Port® as symbolized by our working lighthouse. We are the parent organization to the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) and an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. (StAugustineLighthouse.org)
ABOUT THE AMERICAN ALLIANCE OF MUSEUMS:
The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the highest national recognition afforded the nation’s museums. The American Alliance of Museums has been bringing museums together since 1906, helping to develop standards and best practices, gathering and sharing knowledge, and providing advocacy on issues of concern to the entire museum community. As the ultimate mark of distinction in the museum field, accreditation signifies excellence and credibility. Accreditation helps to ensure the integrity and accessibility of museum collections, and reinforces the education and public service roles of museums and promote good governance practices and ethical behavior. Representing more than 35,000 individual museum professionals and volunteers, institutions, and corporate partners serving the museum field, the Alliance stands for the broad scope of the museum community. (www.aam-us.org)
The new year arrived with a burst of cold air (Florida winter last three whole days this year, it was tough, but we powered through!) and the promise of exciting things on the horizon.
We’ve written before about our new Maritime Archaeology & Education Center, which is finally under construction, but we haven’t shared what this new facility will mean for us in terms of telling the stories of St. Augustine’s connections to World War II. Continue reading
While waiting for the new conservation building to begin construction, the staff has been cleaning up around the old and new work sites. In the process, Starr found something pretty interesting. She was sweeping up in front of the World War 2 era garage and noticed a number of markings in the concrete.
The markings are all last names and dates they were written in the concrete. So far we can read: Muller, Warren, French and Cox. The Cox may be a Coast Guard designation, however, and not a last name as it shows up in multiple places. The dates are all 1944, with March 15 and March 17 in two different spots. This all leads us to believe that the concrete outside of the garage was poured during the war effort, either to fix or replace what was there before. This also leads us to believe that some things never change and the chance to write your name in wet concrete is too tempting to pass up.
We had earlier found a similar marking in the concrete in front of the barracks, as well.
The first thing we did with the barracks inscription was to mark the edges so that staff and visitors would avoid walking on it.
Next, Starr made a dam around the markings and poured silicone rubber over the top. Once the rubber cured, she had a mold of the inscription, just in case something happened to the original. Continue reading