When the Amagansett Lifesaving and Coast Guard Station Committee decided to re-enact the landing 70 years ago of four Nazi spies on the community's lonely ocean beach, they thought a couple dozen people might show up.
Instead, a crowd of about 300 from across East Hampton came out Wednesday night, drawn by curiosity and a desire to connect with one of the most memorable incidents in Amagansett's long history.
"We sit on the beach 50 yards away," said Springs resident Charles Magistro, 71, a retired Unitarian minister who attended with his wife, Theresa. "I never knew where they landed. We're interested in our history. We live here."
Many in Amagansett have heard at least part of the story: A German submarine surfaced near shore the night of June 12, 1942, during World War II, and launched a small inflatable boat with four men, who rowed to the beach and were spotted in the heavy fog by U.S. Coast Guard Seaman John C. Cullen. He was on patrol alone and was armed with only a flashlight.
Peter Garnham, president of the Amagansett Historical Association, fleshed out the story from the porch of the lifesaving station. He told the crowd how the submarine, U-boat 202, ended up being stuck on a sandbar as the tide went out, and how the commander ordered explosives put around the hull in case they were discovered.
Garnham recounted how one saboteur, when he was spotted, first said he was a fisherman, then threatened Cullen before finally bribing him with $300.
Upon seeing others from the landing party, Cullen, 21, took the money and ran off into the fog, alerting others in his unit.
The encounter was acted out a few yards down the empty beach, with committee chairman Kent Miller playing Cullen and town councilman Dominick Stanzione taking on the role of Nazi spy George Dasch. Props were not included.
"Next year, this will be better. We'll have costumes," Garnham promised after the skit.
Cullen died last year, but some of his cousins were guests of honor at the event.
"He never talked about this incident, never," Michael Cullen of Syosset told the crowd. "I'm proud to say he was my cousin."
According to Coast Guard and FBI reports, the Amagansett landing was one of two by four-man teams of Nazi saboteurs -- the other was in Florida -- aimed at blowing up factories, water supplies and even the Hell Gate Bridge, a 1,017 foot railroad bridge still in use linking Astoria, Queens, and the Bronx.
The two teams never committed a single act of terrorism while on U.S. soil.
And, while Cullen first raised the alarm, by the time the Coast Guard, local police and federal officials could investigate, the four saboteurs had walked to a nearby Long Island Rail Road station and taken a train to Manhattan.Dasch, 36, and another German, Ernest Burger, 36, turned themselves in and gave the FBI information about the others. The FBI announced the capture of all eight men on June 27, 1942. They were tried by a military tribunal, which sentenced Dasch and Burger to 30 years in prison and the others to death. President Harry Truman commuted Dasch and Burger's sentences in 1948 and ordered they be deported.