By Kathryn G. Menu; photography by Laurie Barone-Schaefer
The U.S. Life Saving Service Heritage Foundation was founded in 1995 by a group of marine historians, museum directors, veterans and national park service directors interested in the preservation of the history of America’s fast-vanishing lifesaving and early Coast Guard lifeboat stations.
So this week, as the not-for-profit made its way to Sag Harbor for its annual members meeting, visits to all of the South Fork’s life-saving stations were on tap. That included a visit to a station residents have rallied around in a fundraising effort to preserve it in its original location — the Amagansett Life-Saving Station on Atlantic Avenue.
The U.S. Life Saving Service Heritage Foundation arrived at the Sag Harbor Inn for its annual meeting on Monday, and spent the morning and afternoon steeped in lectures about the history of life-saving stations and the Coast Guard on Long Island.
On Monday, Kent Miller, chairman of the Amagansett Life-Saving and Coast Guard Station committee, and Peter Garnham presented the foundation with a history of the station, as well as a recounting the infamous landing of Nazi saboteurs just a quarter mile off the station in June 1942.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the group toured a number of the South Fork life-saving stations, from Fire Island to Montauk, including the one in Amagansett.
After nearly being abandoned and destroyed twice, the preservation of that station has become a town priority, and this year, that preservation effort took a large step forward thanks to local builder Ben Krupinski.
According to Miller, the life saving station — currently listed as a “threatened” station by the life-saving heritage foundation — was built at the turn of the century. It was closed in 1922 and placed into caretaker status but was reactivated for patrol purposed during World War II. It was during that stretch of history Seaman 2nd Class John Cullen — assigned to the Amagansett station — happened upon a party of four German saboteurs on June 13, 1942 after the party landed near the beach in a German U-Boat.
After retaining ownership, the town adopted a management plan for the life-saving station in 2008 and in 2011 a committee was devised to aid with the restoration effort. This summer after a reenactment of the landing of the saboteurs, commemorating the 70th anniversary, Krupinski committed to restoring the exterior of the building, a gift that still leaves Miller in awe.
“I think your organization can finally take us off the endangered list,” said Miller on Monday.
Not only will the foundation do just that, but according to Tim Dring, a retired commander of the naval reserve and board member of the U.S. Life Saving Service Heritage Foundation, it will continue to make itself available to the life-saving station committee as a resource equally committed to its preservation.
“The great thing about these meetings is it gives us a chance to establish new liaisons with local historical groups like this and as they need resources we can aid them,” he said. “We have a lot of outreach to collectors and collections of historical items, old photographs and maps, charts about each station, information about the equipment they kept. We keep a master national database of all the boats and life-saving stations.”
Dring said the organization hopes to make historical databases like that available online soon, so history buffs and tourists alike can find their way to places like the Amagansett Life-Saving Station.
“We do this because it is in our heart and soul to help and keep this alive for future generations,” he said.