World War II buffs and East Hampton Town residents who have long heard the story of the Nazi landing in Amagansett 70 years ago gathered on a rainy night as the for the first time.
The restoration committee organized a small skit to reenact the night John Cullen, a 21-year-old Coast Guardsman, headed out for his patrol on Atlantic Beach and found Nazi spies who had just buried explosives.
This story really all began on April the 16th, 1942, at Adolf Hitler's hide-away in the dense pine forest of East Prussia, according to Peter Garnham, the president of the Amagansett Historical Association and a member of the committee who gave the history to the crowd on Wednesday night. The heads of German military intelligence and the Sabotage division met with Hitler to get permission for an operation, he said. The plan was to blow up a hydroelectric plants in UpState New York, aluminium plants in New York, Illinois, and Tennessee, a chemical factory in Philadelphia, and the Hell Gate Bridge and Penn Station.
Garnham led the crowd from the Life-Saving Station down to the beach, headed east a few hundred yards to where the four Nazi spies landed with a raft, attached to the submarine that had become stuck on the sandbar. Just as they were being pulled back to the "U-Boat" they saw Cullen, carrying only a flashlight.
Kent Miller played Cullen in the short, informal skit. East Hampton Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione played one of the spies, George Dasch, who told Cullen at first that he was a fisherman. Cullen didn't believe him and the spy eventually tried to bribe him with $300.
Robert Strada, the director of LTV and a member of the committee, played another spy — the one who thought it was a good idea to speak German to the seaman they were trying to convince they were East Hampton fisherman, Garnham said. Hugh King, another member of the committee, wrote the script and narrated.
"What they should have done was kill him," Garnham said, as Cullen only pretended the bribe would keep him quiet. He instead ran back to the station and sounded an alarm.
That's where the reenactment ended.
Garnham filled in the rest to the crowd: "One thing to remember about these guys two of them, Dasch and his partner, were both naturalized citizens. They'd lived and worked here for many years before the war. One of them in fact, George Dasch, worked as a waiter in Southampton. So these weren't strangers to these shores or this area. The other guy had been a member of the Michigan National Guard," Garnham said. "The only trouble was their heart really wasn't in it," he said.
The submarine the spies had been brought in on was stuck on the sandbar and the captain had ordered his crew to place explosive chargers around it and prepare to surrender. As a last attempt, he ran the diesel engine, and the noise was detected at the naval radio station on Bluff Road in Amagansett, where the Marine Museum now sits. It narrowly escaped when the tide turned at about 3 a.m.
Meanwhile, Cullen ran back to the station and reported the Nazi landing. His superiors weren't initially convinced, but the wad of money he had taken as a bribe convinced them, Garnham said. "A party was armed and they set off from the station to this spot and they uncovered the explosives," he said. But where were the spies?
They walked across the dunes, walked to the railroad station, and waited for 6:59 train to New York. The FBI announced their arrest on June 27, along with four others in Florida.
Cullen died in September 2011, but his relatives traveled to Amagansett on Thursday for the reenactment, where he was hailed a hero. William Cullen, of Selden, said his cousin would enjoyed the skit. "He never talked about this incident," Cullen said. "Last time I spoke to him, he said, 'Bill, they named a street after me at the Coast Guard Station. I said, 'John, they should have named the Coast Guard station after you.'"
The restoration committee hopes to do the reenactment again next year, with costumes and in a more elaborate fashion.