by Lois Bouton (The Coast Guard Lady)
Near the end of World War II in Bethany Beach Delaware two SPAR'S and a young boy inadvertently announced a false armistice.
An honest to goodness SPAR story.
Bethany Beach was a family resort town during the war. Our Coast Guard Radio Station was right on the beach at one end of town. There were two rows of cottages along the shore with a road that was often covered with sand between them. People from the cities came down weekends or for a week or two vacation.
Several blocks down the beach was a small wooden hotel painted green. It had a restaurant and peach ice cream.... only peach. There were a few year around houses down that way that took in tourists. Farther down there was a dime store and possibly another store or two. There must have been a small grocery store someplace. Over a block or two was the highway without much traffic due to gas rationing. There was a gas station with a small cafe. Somewhere across the highway was the post office. I never went there as we didn't need stamps... Just wrote, "FREE" where the stamp belonged... I really took advantage of that.
Across the highway from our Coast Guard Station was a German POW camp. Some of the men worked at Bill's Army Base, Fort Miles, in Lewes, Delaware, about 15 miles away. The Army men didn't like the job of driving the truck or riding "shot gun" in the back because they had to stay over night and there was nothing to do in Bethany Beach. Bill volunteered for the "shot gun" job as we had been married before I went to Delaware. Our SPAR cook often invited him to eat with us... Sometimes he would bring peach ice cream.
We had a room at one of the tourist houses. One of the two pay phones in town was on our porch at the Radio Station. I think we had the only emergency generator in town. The electricity seemed to go off whenever a storm was approaching so people would come over asking for weather reports when they saw the lights. We really never got any unless the weather was bad from, "Block Island to Cape Hatteras." Then we were busy sending bearings to ships and listening for distress calls to pass on to whoever took care of them.
We had a two story square house... The SPAR's lived downstairs and our Chief's family lived upstairs. There was a side porch facing the road... That's where the phone was. The ocean side had glassed in porches, both downstairs and up. The radio shack was at the end of the upstairs porch. Getting ready for inspection consisted mainly of sweeping out the sand.
When the war was about to end the Chief's 11 year old nephew was visiting... He hung around the Radio Shack waiting for news. Another SPAR and I were on the 6:00 to Midnight watch. When Jimmy got to tired to stay up he went to bed after saying, "Be sure to wake me up if you hear anything."
At midnight Bill came over to walk back our house with me. I had passed Jimmy's message on to the girl's who were on watch 'til 6:00 a.m.
It was a sunny Sunday morning when their watch was over so they decided to come down to the tourist house and wake up Bill and I.
First they woke up Jimmy to tell him there was no Armistice news and invited him to join them. They found a long pole with a bucket hanging on it and Jimmy beat on the bucket with a pipe. They started the racket as soon as they left the station. Most of the houses were occupied that weekend. There was no air conditioning and all the windows were open.
When the people heard the bucket they came out in their night clothes, grabbing dishpans to beat on. Some went to the cars and honked the horns. They were shouting to their neighbors, "the war is over!!!!" No one thought to ask the girls what news they had heard and they just went on down to where we were staying. We DID ask them! they said "No, we just wanted something to do so decided to wake you up." Then they went over to the highway, still beating on the bucket, and the weekend travelers started honking too. They came back to the station and went to bed while Jimmy resumed his vigil with the girls on the morning watch.
It was several days later when official word came but I am sure all the people in Bethany Beach that Sunday still think that they got in on some inside information that only the Coast Guard knew.
Return to the Coast Guard Stories Page