Some two dozen children of military servicemen and women took time out of a fun week of summer camp at the National Guard Training Center in Sea Girt to themselves provide selfless service, undertaking a cleanup project at Sea Girt Lighthouse.
Borough Administrator Al Bunting, a retired Army National Guard colonel, first contacted the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee (SGLCC) to propose that the youngsters “clean up the yard at the lighthouse … pull weeds, etc. and then get a tour.”
SGLCC trustees always appreciate and need volunteers and are eager to give visitors tours as part of the mission to preserve the lighthouse and its history.
No Weeds, Lots of Brass
Before saying yes to the campers’ offer to weed the lawn, lighthouse trustee Bill Dunn toured the grounds and discovered there were no weeds to pull. The grounds are well maintained by the volunteers of the Holly Club, who meet regularly at the lighthouse and by landscaper Fred H. McGrath Jr., an SGLCC member who generously provides his lawn-cutting services free of charge.
Trustee Conrad Yauch had the solution, reporting there was plenty of brass needing polishing. The project was presented to Marie Durling, summer camp activities coordinator, who responded the children were ready and eager for the challenge. “The kids are looking forward to the trip,” she reported.
During their week of camp, the youngsters got a taste of the military life of their parents by living in the barracks at the National Guard base, following a full schedule under the direction of their counselors, exercising and playing sports and games on the camp grounds, eating in the mess hall, exploring the National Guard Militia Museum of New Jersey at the camp. And there was plenty of time to swim in the ocean, relax on the beach, barbecue, and go on educational excursions, like the one that brought them to Sea Girt Lighthouse.
Reporting for Duty
Twenty-two children, ages 13 and 14, and several chaperones arrived at Sea Girt Lighthouse mid-afternoon Tuesday, July 13. They were smartly dressed in the camp t-shirt and matching caps reading: New Jersey National Guard Youth Camp. This is the 16th year the youth camp has been in operation.
The day of the lighthouse visit was entirely devoted to community service. That morning, the campers had been to Sea Girt Public Library, which is housed in the old train station. At the library, they helped sort books for an upcoming book sale. In the 1960s and 1970s, the library had been housed in the lighthouse.
At the lighthouse, the campers were greeted and welcomed by SGLCC president Jerry Hayward and trustees Bill Dunn and Conrad Yauch.
The children and their counselors were escorted into the first-floor meeting room, which like all the rooms in the lighthouse contains mounted displays of artifacts that present the history of the building and the keepers and their families and then the U.S. Coast Guardsmen who lived there and helped mariners and the nation by providing navigational aid and during the Coast Guard era in World War II coastal defense.
How appropriate it was then that the children of service men and women are came to provide community service at Sea Girt Lighthouse. The children followed the example of their parents who through their military service contribute so much to the nation and their fellow Americans.
While for most it was their first visit to a lighthouse, it must have felt familiar to the military children. During its many years of active duty, the lighthouse was a federal government installation, first operated by the U.S. Lighthouse Service then the Coast Guard. The American flag hung at the east side of the room. On the walls were the flags and ensigns of both services, as well as photos of keepers in their naval style uniforms and Coasties in their distinctive uniforms.
The children immediately felt comfortable and right at home. They were seated at three long tables atop which were a rare U.S. Life Saving Service lantern, an oil lantern once used by a Sea Girt keeper in the days before the building was electrified, a historic ship lantern, a door knocker, a coal scuttle, and several lamps and trays.
Each child had an item to clean. On a few of the bigger items, such as the ship’s lantern, two or three children worked together. They were issued small cups of polish, protective gloves and polishing cloths.
A sunny, warm day, all the windows were opened to capture the sea breezes. The fans circulated the air. The children kept cool as they sipped chilled bottled water as they work.
They diligently polished the tarnished artifacts and within an hour had them gleaming. The trustees marveled at the transformation. Mr. Hayward thanked them for their initiative, willingness to help and hard work.
The children were pleased to know that the items would be going back into the display and viewed by the many visitors who followed them to Sea Girt Lighthouse for tours.
Having successfully completed their mission, the campers earned some r&r. They and their counselors were guided throughout the lighthouse from the keeper’s office and into every room of the family quarters. Before they were finished, each child made it into the lantern room at the very top of the tower.
Capturing the attention of the youngsters were the 1939 order of President Roosevelt transferring control order all lighthouses from the Lighthouse Service to the Coast Guard, the December 8, 1941 alert from Coast Guard headquarters to all units that the U.S. is “now in a state of war” and photos of the Coasties stationed at Sea Girt during the war. Also of interest was the photo of Sea Girt’s first keeper, Abraham Wolf, a retired Army officer who had served in the Union Army during the Civil War.
After the tour, each camper was given picture postcards of Sea Girt Lighthouse as keepsakes and to send to friends and family.
Before departing, the children signed the guest book, which has the names and hometowns of visitors from across America and around the world.