Guns and Germans
“You know, there were German subs right near us, right there during the war.” Dad was pointing to an area off the Lido Beach shore. Wow, it was hard to believe! A German submarine not far from where the Block Island boat passed every day. We could almost skim a shell to it. Well…maybe not that far.
“Really, Germans right there?”
“Yes, and there’s a place over there, a bunker, where there were Army guns to protect us.” He pointed to a nearby hill on the other side of the slight rise, within walking distance. Dad said there were supposed to be “cases” or something like that, where they stored the bombs and lifted them to the guns.
He continued, “And, you know, even further down the road, toward Galilee, there’s a tower that looks like grain storage bin, a silo, but it was a lookout point. Across from that is an Army fort, Fort Greene. All of this stuff was put here to defend us during the war.”
We drove by them often. The “silo,” set back from the road, looked like any other. But it was not like any other. It was made of cement not wood and was a hulk that reached to the sky. Near the top was a narrow opening under an overhanging cement roof that circled the structure like a cap. That was the lookout for Germans. “Neat,” I thought when I first saw it. That had to fool them.
“Can we walk to the bunker, Dad? It’s not that far.”
“Sure, but don’t be too long. We’ll be leaving as soon as it starts to get dark.” I loved those days when we stayed late at the beach, squeezing every moment out of the day, feeling the warmth of the day’s sun, napping in the car on the way home, maybe stopping for ice cream. But for now, a walk to see a WWII Army bunker would be another adventure.
The hill seemed ordinary even though it was the only one in an otherwise broad area of flat, grassy landscape. It seemed to belong there, even in its solitude. We walked to the end of the parking area, behind the showers and lockers and on to the wavy, shoulder high grass. I wondered about the few cars barely visible near the hill, but gave it little thought after we started our journey.
Peter, Mike, Bill, Dan and I walked single file along a path with shoulder high tall grass. I turned and looked back, but I could not see Dad’s car. It was quieter now. I hesitated and looked again. Were there any German spies here like the ones I saw in the movies? If so, where were they now?
Peter said, “I think we should go back. It’s getting dark.” I was glad he said it first. He was the youngest.
“C’mon,” said Mike. He was the oldest.
It grew quieter as we approached the hill, the crash of the waves muffled beyond the high grass, and the sun was lower in the sky. Shadows from overhanging clouds crept toward the hill. A cool wind made the grass hum.
“Are you sure this is OK?”
There were two trails that led to the top. Who made them? Probably not the Army…or…the spies. We got to the top.
Every secret place was an adventure, especially if we shared the excitement as friends. We were about to learn the secret of the bunker on the other side of the hill. Were there any guns? How big were they? Could they hit a submarine way out there? Were they ever fired? Who were the guys that fired them? We could see the ocean from the top of the hill. I paused again to listen to the waves and look to the horizon, now deep orange with the sunset. I listened to the soft hum of the grass. It quieted my nerves.
There! I saw it. I saw the periscope and the top of the sub in the distance. It must be the Germans! I saw a turret. I saw a swastika. I’d better tell someone that they were so close. I could be a hero like Audie Murphy who I saw in the movies! Maybe I might even get to meet the President! It was moving at top speed. That sub was moving. The periscope was going down! Hurry. The boat sank silently before I had a chance.
I was startled by a voice on the other side of the hill. “Come down. C’mon. What are you doing up there! Take a look at this side.”
I waited, then walked, slowly, down the hill and around the corner to see the guns. Dad said they were sixteen inchers on carriages. A carriage? I had no idea of the size of a sixteen incher or what a carriage was, but they had to be powerful enough to blast a German sub out of the water at such a distance. That’s what we came to see! I picked up the pace and turned the corner. I stopped; surprised and…disappointed.
There were no guns! There was nothing but a large, cracking rectangular cement floor with patches of grass growing through. The floor ran to the base of a large cement wall that crested to hold the rear half of the grass embankment — the hill we had seen from a distance — and stood two, maybe three stories high. Gray cement rather than guns dominated. It was a frightful emptiness. We would never know the real story of what happened here; so many years had passed. We would never know if the Army men ever saw a submarine.
There was no secret, there was no treasure; and the worst part was not only were there no guns, but someone had written on the cement wall. Not the Army but people who came from the cars, the people who had discovered the place before us. They spoiled it. They took away its honor. And they wrote things like: Kilroy was here. Who was Kilroy? Steve loves Marie, MT loves JT, 2 Good 2 Be 4 Gotten, sometimes in a heart. What did lovers do here? In one corner I saw a swastika with something not so nice written under it. I looked at it for a long time and remembered. That was the mark of the Germans!
“Where are the guns?” Even without the guns, the bunker seemed so strong and powerful, and we were in it. I guess more of its strength was in a story we would never know.
The sun was further down in the sky; the crash of the waves even further away. Fireflies started to blink. It was time to go. As we walked back to our cars, I looked back. All I could see is what the Germans saw, a hill. Our guys were good. No wonder we won.
We returned as Dad was slamming the trunk. He had finished packing the car. “Where have you been?
“Dad, we saw the place where the Army guys were, but where are the guns?”
“Oh, they took them away years ago.” Dad worked at the Naval Air Station during the war. He knew but never said.
As we left Lido Beach that evening, I turned to look back one last time at the dark ocean and wondered. I thought about the swastika. I was looking forward to ice cream.