The recent discovery old buried ordnance at Cape Pogue serves as a vivid reminder of the past and the active role the Vineyard played during World War II. It may be hard to picture it today, but the Vineyard was a key military installation and training ground for the war.
A year before the attack on Pearl Harbor an early radar detection tower was placed high on a Chilmark hilltop. A lookout bunker was built at the top of the Gay Head Cliffs; the bunker has since slid to the foot of the Cliffs and is still visible today. The steamers that plied the Vineyard Sound were painted gray for camouflage. A Coast Guard station was based on Chappaquiddick and blackout curtains were the home decorating item of the day.
What is today the Martha’s Vineyard Airport was originally the site of the Martha’s Vineyard Naval Air Auxiliary training field, where torpedo bomber fighters were taught their craft. The training was live; there were many accidents and men died (forty Vineyard trainees died between 1943 and 1945). The Island was chosen as a site for these training operations because it was such a remote outpost. In addition to air training, the Island also offered perfect terrain for simulated training on the ground. East Beach on Chappaquiddick was used as a practice site for amphibious assault forces, and many men who participated in the invasion at Normandy were trained there.
Now time and erosion and perhaps certain recent weather patterns have combined to expose old ordnance at Cape Pogue. A similar thing happened about twenty years ago at South Beach in Edgartown.
The Army Corps of Engineers and the United States Navy are involved in monitoring the situation and removing the ordnance, in cooperation with The Trustees of Reservations which owns Cape Pogue Wildlife Refuge. Beachcombers are reminded not to pick up ordnance, some of which may be live.
Meanwhile, the beaches continue give up their old secrets, as if insisting that we remember what went on before these were just places for picnics and sunbathing and birdwatching.