April 19, 2018
Dozens of Coast Guard Personnel Come
Together to Uncover the Heroes of the Past
...WITH SLIDE SHOW
By JOY CRIST
Coast Guard (USCG) personnel from Elizabeth City to Hatteras Inlet came
together in the tri-villages on Thursday to clean and uncover the
gravesites of generations of lifesaving heroes.
The crew of roughly 65 personnel represented all ranks and a total of
seven units, and their goal was to clear out and honor a collection of
sites in Rodanthe where former Coast Guard and Life-Saving Service
Station members – the predecessor of the USCG - were laid to rest.
The idea initiated about a month ago, when Engineering Petty Officer
Chief Jamison Smith and Chief Warrant Officer Ryan Gentry, (who has
familial ties to the area), got together to discuss a number of
gravesites that needed to be cleaned up. Tucked away behind rental
homes and businesses, the graves of these past heroes were veritably
hidden in plain sight, but had been covered by years of tree and brush
“Ryan Gentry and myself wanted to do this as a community service
project,” said Chief Smith. “When we looked at the sites, and saw the
scope and the magnitude of the project, we knew we would need more
Originally the project was going to be tackled by a small team of seven
local USCG chiefs, but after touring the sites in question, it became
clear that it was not a small undertaking.
“The 100th anniversary of the Mirlo rescue is coming up, and there are
a lot of heroes buried here,” said Chief Smith. “These gravesites were
just forgotten about over the years. The families maintained them as
long as they could, but as people got older, the [maintenance] couldn’t
be kept up… and we wanted to step up and honor them as best as we
Noting that the project was “more work than originally expected” was a bit of a huge understatement.
It’s not exactly known the last time the four sites were cleared, but
suffice it to say that huge trees and a wall of brush had grown in that
timeframe, and a chunk of the graves that the volunteers uncovered were
toppled over, or barely visible at all.
The small graveyard where the final resting place of Rasmus S. Midgett
lies – a small patch of land that’s across the street from Lee O’Neal
Road – was hidden under a line of brush that engulfed all but a sliver
of the small wooden fence that protected the property.
A local legend, Rasmus was a surfman with the U.S. Life-Saving Station,
who on August 18, 1899, rescued crew members from the barkentine
Priscilla. Working alone, Rasmus swam to the wreckage three miles south
of the Gull Shoal Station to assist the survivors who were too
exhausted to swim ashore.
“Rasmus S. Midgett single-handedly rescued ten men from the surf, and
received the Gold Lifesaving Medal for his heroism” said Chief Smith.
“But if you didn’t know that [his gravesite] was back here, you would
never find it. You couldn’t even see the fence around the site.”
So after the idea was launched, word quietly spread about the
forthcoming clean-up, and the need for assistance, and it didn’t take
long for dozens of U.S. Coast Guard members to volunteer to help with
Crew members from Station Hatteras Inlet, Station Oregon Inlet, ANT
Wanchese, ESD Nags Head, SFO Nags Head, members of the First Flight
Chiefs Mess, and multiple units of Elizabeth City all stepped up to the
All ranks were represented, and the assembled volunteer team included
divers, swimmers, aviation mechanics, machinery technicians,
electricians mates, store keepers, aviation electronics technicians,
and even one of just five Rescue Swimmer Master Chiefs in the entire
U.S. Coast Guard, John Hall.
“It started out small, but it certainly became big, and quickly,” said
Chief Smith. “We didn’t advertise it that much, at all – but all the
people we did reach out to said they would be happy to help.”
The roughly 65 USCG members volunteered their time, their gas, and
their own equipment for the project, and each of the four sites were a
blaze of activity for several hours as trees were cut, brush was hauled
out of the site by trailers, and graves were recovered and reset as
The four sites were scattered throughout the northern Tri-villages and
included a graveyard behind the Island Convenience Store, the small
graveyard of Rasmus S. Midgett near the sound, a graveyard that was
appropriately a shell’s throw away from the Chicamacomico Life-Saving
Station, and a larger graveyard near the Chicamacomico Water Tower that
extended from N.C. Highway 12 all the way to the Pamlico Sound.
“You’ll be able to see the water soon,” said Chief Smith, as dozens of chainsaws and lawnmowers buzzed in unison.
Sure enough, in just an hour’s time, the all-but-forgotten site that
originally looked like every other naturally brushy patch of Rodanthe
was soon clear enough that the former U.S. Coast Guard and Life-Saving
Station members’ graves could be seen from the highway.
“I can’t even begin to list all the names of the [heroes] at these
sites, but they all have ties to the Life-Saving Service Station, the
U.S. Coast Guard, or all of the above,” said Chief Smith. “And every
rank from E2 to E9 and Officer are here to help.”
There were some surprises found along the way, as well.
At the small graveyard close to the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station
where Levene Westcott Midgett was buried, (an officer-in-charge and
recipient of the Silver Lifesaving Medal), the volunteers eventually
uncovered what appeared to be a cylindrical water tank standing on its
As it turned out, the mystery metal object was a WWII-era mine, as well
as a marker for the gravesite of the Chicamacomico Station’s dog.
As the story goes, the still-active sea mine was pushed up from the
beach by a local in his Jeep, and stayed at its newly relocated spot,
fairly close to the gravesites of former personnel. The neighboring
Chicamacomico Station’s dog was eventually buried at the base of the
mine – while it was still active, no less – and years later, the mine
was eventually addressed and deactivated.
“It’s a piece of history we didn’t know about, for sure,” said Chief
Smith. “But how could we ever know these stories if we didn’t come out,
and talk to people, and make an effort to get involved?”
Chief Smith reports this first massive clean-up is just the beginning, too.
“There are gravesites everywhere throughout Hatteras Island,” said
Chief Smith, “and we’re just hitting the tip of the iceberg. We looked
for ties with the Life-Saving Service and the U.S. Coast Guard, and
that’s where we started, but there’s a lot more to do.”
This was the inaugural project of its kind for the local Coast Guard Stations, but it won’t be the last.
Chief Smith reports that community projects like this one have never
been a requirement, but from now on, the Coast Guard will tackle
similar endeavors roughly twice a year for the years to come.
“This is our initial effort,” said Chief Smith. “I’m sure there are 10
more sites just like these that we don’t know about… and we also want
to redo the fence around Rasmus [Midgett’s] gravesite… there’s just so
much we can and will do in terms of community service.”
In the meantime, the assembled crew of about 65 volunteers rivals any landscaping company in the world.
In just a day’s work, the always-moving team transformed the final
resting place of dozens of lifesaving heroes and their families,
creating new landscapes that can be admired and honored without
maneuvering through sky-high mountains of brush.
Using tons of efficiency and a bit of muscle, the ongoing operation
went down like a streamlined rescue – with coordinated activity, and
results that the descendants and families of the lifesaving heroes
could be proud of.
“So many of these sites were almost forgotten,” said Chief Smith. “But
seeing what we’ve accomplished today, and the respect that we are
giving these heroes… it gives you chills.”
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