The trouble with reenactments is that if the reenactment is true to the original and the original took place on the beach in the middle of a very foggy night, who would come to see it?
Well, that was exactly the problem the re-enactors had in Amagansett this past June 13. They were retelling the story of the very foggy night, just past midnight on June 13, 1942, when Nazi terrorists climbed up and out of the hatch of a German submarine off Amagansett, and, together with boxes of explosives, got rowed to the beach in a rubber boat by German navy sailors with submachine guns over their shoulders. Unfortunately for them, they came ashore almost directly in front of the Amagansett Coast Guard Station.
Well, no matter. Hundreds of people came down to the Amagansett Coast Guard Station at 7 p.m. last Monday to stand around or sit in lawn chairs to enjoy an evening commemorating this landing here. On the front porch of the newly restored facility—soon to open as a museum—a series of speeches by dignitaries was delivered at 7 p.m. about what had happened way back then, a singing group called Rumor Has It, dressed in full 1940s regalia, cloned the Andrew Sisters and Patty Page by singing some of their classic hits from that era—“The Chattanooga Shoe Shine Boy,” “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy from Company B.” Then, on a big outdoor movie screen next to a popcorn-making machine, the celebrants enjoyed watching the premiere of a movie of the re-enactment of the Nazi landing done in 2015 on this landing site—a re-enactment that starred Sonny Sireci, Even Thomas, Carl Irace, Ted Hults and Samantha Ruddock. This was followed by two short features of black-and-white newsreel footage from 1942 that showed the arrests of the terrorists and, in many cases, their imprisonment or electrocution. There were also members of the Amagansett Life-Saving and Coast Guard Station on hand to give tours to the attendees.
To top it off, the sun set behind the station in spectacular fashion, and in that purple glow people talked about that long ago night and the day that followed, when Amagansett was the top of the front page on all newspapers in the country—for the first and probably only time.
Hugh King, the East Hampton Town Crier, acted as master of ceremonies and introduced the dignitaries and descendants of those Coast Guardsmen who spotted this incursion and sounded the alarm here on that day so long ago. David Lys, the Chairman of the Amagansett Life-saving and Coast Guard station, said a few words.
Members of the family of Carl Jennett, who was in charge late that night at the Coast Guard Station, spoke. Ensign John Cullen came back from a shortened nighttime walking patrol to tell everyone there he’d seen Germans on the beach just through the fog in front of the station. No one believed him at first. But when he waved the hundred dollars in bribe money they gave him to tell him to forget what he saw, coastguardsman Carl Jennett rallied to the occasion and led a contingent of 10 coastguardsmen sleeping there that night out onto the beach, bearing old First World War bolt- action rifles. Jennett also called his superior, Commander Warren Barnes at his home inland and asked him to bring reinforcements.
The men who came ashore that night were Germans who had lived in America for many years but had returned to the homeland to help the German cause in the war. They all spoke English and German. One of them, however, their leader, had no intention of allowing this sabotage operation to go ahead.
He was a New York City waiter of German extraction named George Dasch, who, as a teenager, had emigrated to America and, 20 years later, just before the outbreak of hostilities, had returned to his homeland on a steamer to see if he wanted to move there. By the time he decided he did not, hostilities had broken out with America and he could not get back to New York to his wife and family. But there was another way. With his fluency in two languages, he could be a spy for Germany. The German High Command agreed. But they wanted him to do more than just spy. He should lead a whole wave of submarines bearing German terrorists to America, and after landing there, embark on a two-year reign of terror designed to create havoc and destroy factories and utilities.
Asked to do that, he pulled off a little trick. He pretended to go along with the plan. And when he landed here with the other men, the explosives, and a satchel containing $1.2 million in today’s money, he led the men to the Amagansett Railroad Station and a train to New York, and told them to wait while he set things up. Then he went to Washington to meet with the FBI.
Out in Amagansett, by 4 a.m. that first night, the coastguardsmen found and dug up the boxes of dynamite, fuses and timers, and by noon that material had been turned over to the FBI in New York City. A manhunt to find the perpetrators turned up nothing. But then, there was George Dasch’s knock on the FBI’s front door.
The “capture” made headline news all around the country. FBI head J. Edgar Hoover took full credit for it, and less than two months later, six were put to death, two were given long prison sentences (one was Dasch). Adolph Hitler’s two-year terrorist plan was over before it started.
As the photos on page 51 show, last Monday evening’s festivities concluded with one of the most wonderful sunsets ever seen in Amagansett, a peacock display of color directly behind the Coast Guard Station that seemed to bless the occasion. But there was still time for a tour of the station for those who wanted it. One of the local men involved in the raising of the money to restore the old abandoned Coast Guard Station was Michael Cinque, the owner of Amagansett Wine & Spirits in Amagansett. As the night darkened, with the film over, he was to be found in the Coast Guard building’s attached garage, telling onlookers about the longboat in there that the Coast Guard would wheel out on a trailer down the beach to row through the surf to save seamen when the occasion warranted. He also talked about the garage’s interior, which had been so lovingly restored by volunteers.
“Many days our volunteers consisted of prisoners in orange jail suits from the Riverhead jail. They’d arrive in big county busses in the morning and do whatever was needed to be done—carpentry, sanding, painting—and we’d order pizza for lunch, stuff you don’t get in jail, and they loved it all. Occasionally, the Good Humor ice cream truck would come over and the men would be enjoying banana splits and ice cream sundaes in their orange suits around the white ice cream wagon amidst the beachgoers. The prisoners are largely responsible for the interior restoration of the finishing of the wainscoting in this boathouse garage. The station should be open next year. Lots of Coast Guard equipment, uniforms, books, and this great story to tell will be here.”
There’s a good book to be written about this. I have just finished a manuscript about George Dasch and what he did, and the upcoming book, tentatively titled The Night the Nazis Landed, was, two weeks ago, optioned for film and TV by Emmy-winner Cayman Grant of Steel Titan Productions.