HISTORY OF THE
UNITED STATED COAST GUARD


East Beach Station, St. Simons Island, Georgia

1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), authorized the building of 45 United States Coast Guard Stations around the country. Later that same year, Georgia Senator Walter F. George, and Georgia Congressman Braswell Deen obtained an $115,000 appropriation from Congress for the new Coast Guard Station and Boathouse to be built on St. Simons Island. Work began in the fall of 1935 and of all the stations built during that time, only St. Simons and two others are believed still standing.

The East Beach site was chosen by Capt. M.T. Hite a civil engineer with the Coast Guard. The property was originally given to Glynn County for use as a park by Mrs. E. C. Bruce. When the government became interested in the site, she waived the stipulation concerning the tract and granted the county the right to donate it for the location of a life-saving station along with property from Mr. J. Hunter Hopkins. In February 1930, the Sea Island Company sold three plots of land to the United States Treasury Department for the total sum of $1.00 for a boathouse on the Frederica River, a short distance from the site of the life-saving station.

The station and the boathouse had their "First Watch" on April 1, 1937. The St. Simons Island site was officially designated the East Beach Station, and was under the command of the Second United States Coast Guard District headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida. When the station was first opened, the original beach front was located just a few feet from the front door. Since that time, sands have filled in the area currently between the station and the ocean (now the large parking lot). The original mission for the personnel at the East Beach Station was to watch for swimmers in distress, and log the passing of all planes and ships. In late 1930s and 40s, automobiles were allowed on the beach at low tide, and there are reports of some recreational car races.

Log sheets from the early days of 1937-1945 reveal the daily lives of the Coast Guardsmen assigned to this station. A single ranking "Boson” supervised a crew comprised of 10-12 "surfmen” and "mates”. Among his other duties the Boson kept the log, assigned duties for search and rescue of missing fisherman, boaters and swimmers, help during local disasters including structure fires and road accidents, storm damage clean-up and any other "call for aid” the station received. However, life changed for the coasties stationed on St. Simons Island with the outbreak of WWII. In 1941, the United States Coast Guard was transferred from the Treasury Department to the War Department, under the auspices of the United States Navy.

And in early 1942, the war came home to the coast of Georgia. On April 8, 1942, a German submarine, U-123, under the command of Kapitanleutnant Reinhard Hardegan, sank two merchant ships off the coast of St. Simons Island. The ships were the SS Oklahoma, and the Esso Baton Rouge. Most of the crewmen on these two ships were asleep when they were torpedoed. The Coast Guardsmen, as well as locals sprang to action. Rescues were mounted. In all, twenty-two men lost their lives. The surviving crew members and one ship’s mascot (a little yellow dog) were taken, almost naked, to the Coast Guard station to await further instructions.

Although it is now believed all of the seamen were accounted for, it may never be known if that is correct. Five of the recovered bodies could not be identified and were buried together in the same plot in Brunswick. Eventually, one was identified, disinterred, and sent home for burial. The remaining four are still buried at Brunswick’s Palmetto Cemetery with the marker reading "UNKNOWN SEAMEN…1942”. In 1999, and under the direction of Don Robertson, St. Simons Island, and the Propeller Club, the four remaining seamen were identified. However, to this day, none of the four men’s relatives have been found. A new tombstone, with their names engraved was dedicated to them on Maritime Day, May 22, 1999.







A New Mission

After this incident, the mission of the Coast Guard station changed once more. Three weeks after this incident, President Roosevelt called for the coastal blackout. The US Navy sent blimps from the Glynco Naval Air Station in Brunswick to patrol along the Georgia coast looking for submarines, and sailors learned about radar tracking at the Navy’s radar training school held at the King & Prince Hotel.

Shore patrols with civilian volunteers manned the beaches, and were known as the Coast Guard Auxiliary, serving under the command of the local Coast Guard unit. The Coast Guard had instructions to keep a vigilant watch, but they were not to engage the enemy. All military engagements were to be conducted by the United States Army or Navy. All incidents of a suspicious nature were to be turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The FBI would then determine if the information required further investigatory work. These conditions remained in effect until the end of World War II.

On January 1, 1946, the United States Coast Guard, and the East Beach Station, were transferred back to the Department of the Treasury. Owing to the improvements and advances in communications, the mission of the East Beach Station changed yet again. They no longer looked out for swimmers, and discontinued sightings of planes and ships. Now, they were to do all monitoring for Coast Guard assignments by radio, especially "ship to shore”, and by telephone. However, the men continued to be housed at the beach, though they no longer had sea watch duties. The boats remained at the boathouse on the Frederica River.

In the spring of 1967, the United States Coast Guard was transferred to the newly created Department of Transportation. As St. Simons Island grew, and many more tourists began to visit, automobile traffic on the island increased. The Coast Guard found it much more difficult to make their way from the East Beach Station to the Frederica River boathouse when they needed to get out on the water for rescue and safety reasons.

In 1975, the there was an unsuccessful attempt at legislation to build a new housing facility for $2,000,000 at Gascoigne Bluff, just north of the boathouse. On January 14, 1982, the Coast Guard tried for a second time to consolidate facilities in the same manner as the 1975 proposal. Again, they were rebuffed by Congress.

Then on October 13, 1993, the boathouse on the Frederica River caught fire and burned to the ground. It was considered a total loss. Now the Coast Guard had housing facilities on the beach, but no mission for the beach area, and no area for their boats. Again, a plea was sent to Congress for a new station. Finally, in the fall of 1995, the East Beach Station was decommissioned, and all communications, housing and boating facilities were moved to land owned by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. This new station, located on the south side of the Sidney Lanier Bridge in Brunswick, was commissioned that same year. As of March 1, 2003, the United States Coast Guard is now under the command of the Department of Homeland Security.

The men of the Untied States Coast Guard, who were known affectionately as "Coasties”, were heroic, did their duty, stood silent watch, and manned their posts. Although there is no attribution for the saying, all Coasties lived by an unofficial motto.

"YOU HAVE TO GO OUT, BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO COME BACK!"

When the last of the Coasties left the East Beach Station in 1995, they expressed hope that even though the station was in an aging condition, that one day it could be refurbished and become a museum. Under the direction of the Coastal Georgia Historical Society and with donations from their many benefactors that dream has been realized.



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Coastal Georgia Historical Society     •     A. W. Jones Heritage Center     •     610 Beachview Drive     •     St. Simons Island, Georgia 31522     •     912-638-4666