On June 13, 1942, four Nazi saboteurs came ashore in Amagansett intent on wreaking havoc across the country. They may have succeeded if it weren’t for Coast Guardsman John Cullen, who was on patrol that evening from the U.S. Life-Saving Service Station in Amagansett.
This past Friday, dozens of spectators came to Atlantic Avenue Beach to watch as the events of that fateful evening were reenacted in a play put on by the Amagansett Life-Saving Station and Coast Guard Building Committee.
“The reason we wanted to reenact this was to draw attention to the Life-Saving Station and what went on here,” said East Hampton village historian Hugh King, the play’s writer and producer. “Rather than have people come down here and just talk to them about what happened, we showed them what happened.”
The play, based on real events, centered around John Cullen, a 21-year-old Coast Guardsman, portrayed by Sonny Sireci, and his encounter with the German saboteurs lead by George Dasch (Carl Irace). Spectators gathered at the Life-Saving Station to watch as Cullen received his orders to go on patrol from Bosun’s Mate Carl Jennett (Kent Miller). The audience then traveled down to the beach to find saboteurs George Dasch, Peter Burger (Kent Miller) and Heinrich Heinck (Kent Miller) unloading a raft full of explosives and supplies. Cullen arrived shortly after and confronted Dasch, who claimed they were fisherman whose boat was disabled. He then tried to bribe Cullen into looking the other way. Realizing he was outnumbered, Cullen took the money and ran back to the Life-Saving Station, with the audience in-tow, for the final scene, where he reported what he had seen to Bosun’s Mate Jennett. Amagansett Historical Association Director Peter Garnham provided the prologue to the story.
“This is the second year we’ve done this, but last year we just did a reading down at the beach,” King said. “This year we made it a little bit bigger, and I think we can do even more now. The more information we can find out about this story, we can make it a little bit longer.”
The committee’s aim is to restore the Amagansett Life-Saving Station and Coast Guard Building to its original state. Built in 1902, the building was used by the Life-Saving Service to rescue shipwrecked sailors until 1915, when it was taken over by the U.S. Coast Guard, which used it until 1946. By the mid-’60s, the building was deemed military-surplus and went up for sale for $1, under the condition that it would be moved from the site.
“My father decided to buy it for a dollar, so he had to move it,” said Committee member Isabel Carmichael. Her father, Joel, had the building moved to a piece of land on Bluff Road in 1966. He then converted it into a house, where the Carmichael family lived for 40 years. “In 2006, when my father died, my brother, sister and I decided to give the building to the town,” Carmichael said. The building was moved back to its original site, where it was placed on a new foundation, and a committee was appointed by the Town of East Hampton to handle the restoration project.
“It was really dilapidated, so we formed a committee to refurbish the building using private funds, and this committee used the idea of a reenactment as a vehicle to attract attention to the building,” said Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione. “From that first reenactment, we garnered $250,000.” The committee is hoping to raise another $250,000 this year.
“It started slowly, because we were an advisory group, and we weren’t empowered to raise money,” Carmichael said. “The East Hampton Historical Society came through as an interim conduit for the money because they’re a nonprofit.” The Committee is seeking nonprofit status and currently has an application with the IRS.
In addition to donors, the reenactment drew the attention of East Hampton builder Ben Krupinski. “The generosity of Ben Krupinski can’t be overstated,” Garnham said. “It’s one thing for a contractor to send a crew and do the shingling, but he’s taken on almost the whole damn thing!”
“Because of last year’s reenactment, Ben Krupinski got really interested in it,” Carmichael said. “He donated his manpower and materials to restore the outside, which was the most pressing thing.”
Once restored, the building will be used for a variety of community purposes, as well as an office for the East Hampton lifeguards. “There’s going to be a small permanent museum with the history of the Coast Guard and the Life-Saving Service, and the boat-room will be available for community events, art shows and meetings,” Garnham said.
“This is an incredible project for Amagansett,” Stanzione said. “Amagansett is on the national stage when it comes to the history of World War II, and this building has a rich history in lifesaving.”
For more info, visit amagansett.org/LSS.