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Remembering That Time When Nazi Terrorists Landed in Amagansett

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Sometimes on slow wintery days we like to take a look back in time and remember yesteryear in the Hamptons.

Only once have enemy soldiers landed on the mainland United States--in Amagansett. In 1942, four Germans landed on the beach in a rubber boat launched from an enemy submarine. They buried their Nazi uniforms, weapons, and explosives in the Amagansett sands.

A U.S. Coast Guardsman called John Cullen discovered them on a routine patrol of the beach. The Nazi leader bribed Cullen to keep quiet. Cullen then ran back to his Coast Guard station to alert his superiors, but by the time they returned, the Germans had left. They had put on civilian clothes and held fishing poles, so that passers-by would think they were surfcasting. Then they walked to the nearest LIRR station and took the morning train to New York City.

Montauk's Camp Hero (named after Major General Andrew Hero, Jr., the Army's Chief of Coast Artillery between 1926 and 1930) was part of the coastal defense system known as the Eastern Shield. The defensive structures at the camp were disguised; it was hoped that if the Nazis looked at Camp Hero from the air or sea, they'd see a little New England fishing village. There were Cape Cod houses, concrete bunkers that were supposed to look like houses (with false dormers) and even a church with a false steeple.

Montauk was chosen as the location for Camp Hero because it was feared that the nearby shipping lanes might provide the Germans with a way to stage an invasion of New York. But the Nazis chose an even more stealthy threat: U-boats.

Operation Pastorius (named after the man who organized the first German settlement in America), the U-boat operation in 1942, was intended to mortally wound the American economy. Once the Nazi soldiers had landed in the United States, they were supposed to commit terrorist strikes against Penn Station, aluminum factories in Illinois and Tennessee, locks on the Ohio River, and hydroelectric plants at Niagara Falls. (Another set of four soldiers landed several days later in Florida.)

The Amagansett Nazis--Richard Quirin, Heinrich Heinck, Peter Burger and leader George Dasch—decided to lay low in New York City for a while. They bought new American clothes and checked in to nondescript midtown hotels. The plan was for them to go to Chicago, but time went by and Dasch didn't tell the others to leave. The others became anxious.

What they didn't know was that Dasch planned to turn them in to the FBI. Even for a Nazi, Dasch was a jerk. He was a supercilious underachiever who felt that he was never given the glory that was his due. The second day in New York City, Dasch called the FBI on a pay phone. He told the FBI that his name was Franz Pastorius and he had vital intelligence from Germany, but he'd only talk directly to J. Edgar Hoover. The person who took the call dismissed Dasch as a crank.

Dasch was enraged, so he took the train down to Washington to FBI headquarters. Surely J. Edgar Hoover would love to meet a real hero such as himself in person? Apparently not, though, because Dasch only spoke to an underling. The FBI listened to Dasch's story, threw him in jail, and rounded up the other spies.

The only time Dasch got to speak to J. Edgar Hoover was at his trial. President Roosevelt, by executive order, set up a military tribunal to try the spies. August 8, 1942, all the spies were found guilty. Dasch and Burger received life sentences, while the others were electrocuted. In 1948, Dasch and Burger were released from prison and deported to Germany. Dasch lived the rest of his life being hated as a traitor and a failure.

Things turned out more happily for Camp Hero: it is now a state park.
Laura Euler