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Second World War, Jekyll Island, Georgia
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The World War II Years on Jekyll Island

By Tyler E. Bagwell

Club Tower
The Jekyll Island Club typically opened every year in early January and closed sometime in early April. In 1942, the Club's final year of operation, the season ended on April 5th and employees set about covering furniture, shuttering the windows, and preparing the grounds for next season.

America's involvement in WWII, however, was increasing. Three days following the ending of the Club season, a German submarine torpedoed two American tankers near Sea Island, Georgia. Cases of chicken, quarters of beef, cans of paint, and other debris from the torpedoed ships washed ashore on the north end of Jekyll.

Coinciding with the submarine strikes, Germany also in April of 1942 dropped off spies in New York and Florida. Their eventual capture as well as the sea attacks prompted the formation of watch and guard patrols along the Atlantic coast.

De Zutter Letter
Lillian Schaitberger, daughter of the 1940s island caretaker, recalls hearing Jekyll Island Club superintendent Michel De Zutter proclaim that one of the captured spies had been a waiter on the island. Although none of the German agents are listed in the remaining Club employee records, one of the spies, George Dasch, was known to have been a waiter at several locations in New York. De Zutter also managed resorts in that area.

Since Club member dues had not been collected past the 1942 season, island timber-cutting operations helped produce income. The removal of lumber on Jekyll started in the 1930s and by the forties, independent contractor Conrad Rogers was cutting timber on the island. The Club instructed him to cut no tree within 100 feet of any road.

Jekyll Map
The Club's financial difficulties and the need for people in the war effort meant fewer workers were on Jekyll during the off-season of 1942. Nevertheless, the few employees left on the island were under the direction of Rufus Bennett.

In late April of 1942, soldiers from the 104th Infantry Division began guarding the coast of Georgia. On Jekyll, the 104th was granted permission to use on Pier Road the boarding house, the dining hall, and one of the employee houses. A telephone line ran from the employee home, nicknamed the "radio shack," to a watchtower erected in the sand dunes near the shore. Soldiers were posted at the tower and periodically patrolled the beaches on foot or at times by jeep.

Jekyll Aerial
Around July of 1942 the Coast Guard began to also patrol the beaches of Jekyll. Approximately twelve Coast Guardsmen were stationed on the island at a time. Their schedule involved working in shifts of four hours on duty and then eight hours off-duty, twenty-four hours a day. When given liberty, many of the men gathered with other servicemen stationed in Glynn County at the Rose Room, the cocktail lounge of the Oglethorpe Hotel in Brunswick, Georgia.

One evening, a Coast Guardsman awoke the island caretaker and informed him that an enemy tank had been dropped off on the island. He declared the vehicle's track could be viewed on the beach. The track turned out to be the trail of a loggerhead turtle, which had crawled from the ocean up to the sand dunes, laid a clutch of eggs, and then returned to the water parallel of the first track she had made. The caretaker Rufus Bennett allayed the Coast Guardsman's fears by digging up and showing him the turtle eggs deposited.

Oglethorpe Hotel
With the arrival of the 725th MP Battalion in Brunswick during the fall of 1942, the 104th Infantry Division switched to protecting the mainland. While the 725th guarded the islands, the Coast Guard patrolled the shoreline. In late January of 1943 the 104th was transferred from Brunswick and eventually participated in several European battles.

Like the 104th on Jekyll, the 725th lived in the boarding house and prepared meals in the dining room building on Pier Road. Servicemen alternated cooking meals. On one occasion, John "Scotty" McPhee, a soldier in the 725th, jokingly removed all of the labels from the ration cans during one of his turns as cook. For weeks no one knew what the meal was going to be until a container was opened.

The 725th enjoyed leisure activities such as swimming in the clubhouse pool, bicycle riding, and periodically playing a card game with the island caretaker's family. Clifford Matilda Bennett, the caretaker's wife, often sold soft drinks, candy, and cigarettes in the commissary building to the soldiers.

Blimp at NAS Glynco
One evening on Jekyll, a soldier in the 725th reputedly saw lights shining over the ocean's horizon. Thinking it might be an enemy submarine recharging batteries, he reported the unidentified lights. An air ship from the Brunswick blimp base flew over the area dropping depth charges. In the end, no enemy ships were found that night or for that matter at any time while the 725th or the other military groups were stationed on Jekyll.

By late July 1943 the 725th MP Battalion received reassignment papers and were eventually sent to Africa and Italy. The Coast Guard ended the shore patrols of Jekyll by early or mid 1945.

More information about Jekyll during WWII as well as other stories of the island may be found in the book Jekyll Island, A State Park.

Appreciation extends to Sam Altman, Ralph Bufkin, Joe Gaudiello, Mal Hoyt, Scotty McPhee, Ann North, Caesar Pavia, Lillian Shaitberger, and Mildred Tichnell for the sharing of information concerning the World War II years in Glynn County.


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