Military History Attracts Veterans to Lighthouse

Published by Admin at 11:50 PM under

USCG_ENSIGN_PRESENTATIONMost every Sunday, there are a few military veterans and the occasional merchant mariner visiting the lighthouse, which extends a welcome to all service members, active duty and retired, and their families.

In addition to the compelling history of Sea Girt Lighthouse as an important East Coast light that made sea travel safer, and was the first land-based station in the world equipped with a radio fog beacon transmitter to enable mariners to navigate in fog, there are numerous exhibits and many artifacts that would be of special interest to mariners and military members.

From its activation in 1896 through mid-1939, Sea Girt Lighthouse was under the command of the U.S. Lighthouse Service. While a civilian service, the USLHS borrowed from the military, having a command structure, ranks and uniformed personnel, whose dress uniforms and fatigues were actually U.S. Navy uniforms but with Lighthouse Service markings.

COASTIE_WAPELHORST_RETURNSThen, by executive order of President Franklin Roosevelt, the U.S. Lighthouse Service was dissolved July 1, 1939 and all lighthouses were put under the command of the U.S. Coast Guard in anticipation of America’s going to war. During World War II, the beacons at Sea Girt and other U.S. lighthouses were extinguished. Men at Seat Girt and other lighthouses stood watch in the towers, looking for enemy ships as well as Allied ships in trouble.

In addition to its lighthouse duties, Sea Girt was also a weather station and a signal station. Keepers took weather readings at Sea Girt and other lighthouses, which they submitted to central regional offices that then made weather forecasts. This was the precursor of the National Weather Service. Also, in 1898, lighthouses, including Sea Girt, were issued signal flags, enabling keepers to communicate with passing passenger and cargo ships, as well as U.S. Navy vessels sailing to and from Cuba during that year’s Spanish-American War.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Among the displayed artifacts of special interest to mariners and military would the manuals, maps and tools used by keepers, merchant mariners and military personnel to fulfill their duties, including an 1898 navigational map identifying Sea Girt Lighthouse as a signal station, volumes of U.S. Coast Pilot listing lighthouses and other aids to navigation and the latitude and longitude of each, a U.S. Life-Saving Service surfman’s brass candle lamp, circa 1910, USLHS binoculars, circa 1910, a Coast Guard binnacle compass and U.S. Navy long lens, both circa 1917, monthly U.S. Lighthouse Service Bulletins, 1920-30s, a 1927 edition of Instructions To Employees of the United States Lighthouse Service, Bluejacket’s Manual, 1940, issued to all U.S Navy and U.S. Coast Guard recruits, signal flags from the World War II era, and the very first edition of the U.S. Coast Guardman’s Manual, 1952.

Official Sea Girt documents from the Lighthouse Service and then the Coast Guard are organized chronically and organized by decade in folders that can viewed by visitors. Displayed documents includes the keeper logbook 1903-06, announcements from the USLHS Commissioner of the top-rated keepers who have been awarded Efficiency Stars, which Sea Girt keepers won numerous times, the carbon of a keeper’s vacation request listing his itinerary as “automobiling to Long Island,” President Roosevelt’s 1939 Reorganization Plan No. 2, dissolving the USLHS and transferring command to the U.S. Coast Guard, the alert from the Coast Guard’s Intelligence Office, December 8, 1941, advising all units “a state of war now existing. …” Historic photos capture the lighthouse and the people stationed there from the earliest days of the Lighthouse Service command through the Coast Guard years.


Among the members and benefactors of Sea Girt Lighthouse are veterans of all the military services. Among the docents are two retired colonels, one from the Army National Guard and the other from the U.S. Marine Corps. Among the founding members and a past president of the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee, which maintains and operates the lighthouse, was the late Bill MacInnes, a retired general in the U.S. Air Force.

While many active duty and retired military and merchant mariners and their families have visited the lighthouse during public tours on Sundays from mid-April through mid-November, except holiday weeks, others have come for special events and on groups tours.

OP_BEACHHEAD_VISITORS2Hank Wapelhorst, who was a 19-year-old Seaman 1st Class and one of the last two Coast Guardsmen at Sea Girt Lighthouse in 1954 on the decommissioning detail, has returned numerous times since. Hank has donated several photographs from his active duty at Sea Girt that are on display. He has attended trustee meetings and other lighthouse events, recalling his assignment there. And, in 2007, Hank was the featured speaker at a special event recalling and celebrating the Coast Guard era at the lighthouse. Also speaking was the commanding officer from Coast Guard Station Shark River, in nearby Belmar. At the conclusion of the program, the lighthouse was presented with a Coast Guard ensign, which is proudly displayed in the lighthouse’s Coast Guard exhibit.

In July 2010, 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.

The children, ages 13 and 14, were escorted into the first-floor meeting room, where they were seated at three long tables and spent a few hours cleaning glass and brass, including the Life-Saving Service lantern, the keeper’s oil lamp and an historic ship lantern, as well as a door knocker, a coal scuttle, several lamps and trays.

Having successfully completed their mission, the campers 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. [Read the full story of their visit here: http://www.seagirtlighthouse.com/2010/08/default.aspx].


One Sunday in August 2016, lighthouse docents, including Marty Brueckner, a Marine veteran who served in Vietnam, welcomed a half-dozen visitors who were participating that weekend in Operation Beachhead.

A volunteer program, Operation Beachhead offers active duty personnel, veterans, including disabled veterans, and their families recreational, sports and social opportunities. In winter, they go skiing and sledding. And twice a summer participants visit the shore, staying with host families. The hosts and other volunteers take their guests to the beach, where they can sun or relax in the shade under umbrellas. There are picnics and the opportunity to sail, kayak, even surf under the supervision of experienced boaters and surfers. In the evenings, hosts might have a barbecue or take their guests to a local restaurant.

CAMPERS2There’s also opportunities to go amusement parks, sightseeing, and/or visit historic sites in the area, for example the Squan Beach Life-Saving Station in Manasquan, Camp Evans in Wall, the National Guard Militia Museum at Camp Sea Girt and, of course, Sea Girt Lighthouse. Operation Beachhead volunteer Mary Dougherty, of Sea Girt, arranged a special tour of Sea Girt Lighthouse for her half-dozen houseguests.

Among the visitors that day was New Yorker John Devine, a Marine veteran who served in Vietnam where he lost his leg in combat. After his recovery and rehabilitation, John had a long and successful career in sales. He and his wife live on Long Island. John is a mentor to younger wounded veterans and an encouraging example of success through determination, hard work and a positive attitude.

John, who grew up in Brooklyn and was known to his childhood friends as J.J., was making a return visit to Sea Girt and the lighthouse. As a youngster, some 50 years ago, he spent a week with family friends at their summer home in Sea Girt. He and the children he was visiting would take breaks from the beach and go to the lighthouse, which was then the recreation center where they played ping pong and Monopoly and watched movies.

See the homepage for the schedule of Sunday tours and check the website for upcoming special events that may be of interest. To arrange a special group tour, submit a request from the Contact Us page or leave a message on the phone line, 732-974-0514.

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