On a stormy Friday morning, several dozen U.S.
Coast Guard personnel from the Outer Banks area and miles beyond met in
Rodanthe to tackle maintenance projects at two historic cemetery sites
that are located just off the beaten path.
The initiative was part of an ongoing community
service project where Coast Guard members volunteer their own time,
materials, and manual labor to honor the local gravesites of original
Life-Saving Service and Coast Guard members.
The first wave of efforts began in April, when
roughly 65 volunteers made an initial “clean sweep” of four cometary
sites in the tri-villages area, where decades of brush and debris had
all but covered the gravesites.
Friday’s project entailed installing a new fence
around the cemetery where the final resting place of Rasmus S. Midgett
is located – a small patch of land that’s across the street from Lee
O’Neal Road, and which is tucked away behind the Hatteras Realty
A local legend, Rasmus was a surfman with the
Chicamacomico 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. He received a Gold
Lifesaving Medal for this historic rescue from the Secretary of the
Treasury in October, 1899.
His son, Arthur Vanburen Midgett, also received a
Gold Lifesaving Medal as one of the Chicamacomico Station’s surfmen who
participated in the famous Mirlo rescue, which celebrated its 100th
anniversary in 2018. Arthur is also buried at the small cemetery, along
with other family members who were connected with the Life-Saving
Service and / or the later U.S. Coast Guard.
“It’s not often that we have one, let alone two
Gold Lifesaving Medal recipients in the same graveyard,” said Timothy
Tamargo of the National Strike Force (NSF) and Coast Guard Personal
Affairs Specialist. “There are two prominent people buried here, so
this is a wonderful community service project to take on.”
The ensuing project did have a few challenges,
however. A coastal storm in the immediate forecast brought heavy winds
and afternoon rains for the volunteers, but the deteriorating
conditions didn’t phase the Coast Guard members or slow down their work
in the slightest.
“There’s a little wind and a little rain, but we’re certainly used to working in bad weather,” said Tamargo.
The fence that originally bordered the cemetery
was in deep disrepair, and it was unclear how long that it had
protected the site, although several volunteers speculated that it was
likely erected in the 1980s or early 1990s.
After removing the rotting fence – a process that
literally took minutes – a new fence began to take shape, with
materials that were generously donated by Kempsville Building Materials
The volunteers for Friday’s clean-up
project were primarily Coast Guard chiefs or chiefs
in training, and included members of the Sector Field Office Nags Head
/ Cape Hatteras, the U.S. Coast Guard Station Hatteras Inlet, the Air
Station Elizabeth City, the National Strike Force, the Aviation
Technical Training Center, and the Aviation Logistics Center. Many of
the volunteers also made a long trek from the Elizabeth City station to
lend a hand – a trip that was complicated with heavy traffic, as well
as the weather.
But regardless of the initial obstacles, once the
U.S. Coast Guard volunteers were on the scene of the cemetery, the
operation ran like a well-orchestrated rescue. Some volunteers
immediately set to work on removing brush and debris that had arrived
with the onset of Tropical Storm Michael, while other volunteers
started to dig fence holes or take measurements.
By the afternoon, the team had split into two
groups so that a second graveyard could be addressed in the
Tri-villages, which had also been impacted by soundside flooding and
debris from the fall tropical storm.
The idea for regular clean-ups of historic
cemeteries throughout the island first popped up in early 2018, 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 were in dire need of maintenance.
Decades if not centuries old, and quietly located behind modern 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
“There are gravesites everywhere throughout
Hatteras Island,” said Chief Smith in an earlier interview, “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.”
Chief Smith noted that another clean-up is planned in November, this time at a site in Hatteras village.
“There are a couple places we have leads on, and
we are continually getting requests to help,” he said. “With all the
history in this area, it’s a great project we can do for the community.”
And when it comes to tackling sites that have
succumbed to decades of overgrowth and deterioration, it’s incredible
what the all-volunteer U.S. Coast Guard crew can accomplish in just a
few hours’ time. By the end of the day, both sites were perfectly
cleared once again, and the new fence that shielded the gravesites of
Arthur Midgett and Rasmus Midgett was fully in place, and standing
“All of the lifesaving history here is amazing,
and we’re glad we can help to honor it,” said Tamargo. “In doing this
project, we can help tell the story of the Midgetts, and of the U.S.