This Paradise is the Bomb

Wellfleet’s ocean beaches are part of the Cape Cod National Seashore. 
Wellfleet’s ocean beaches are part of the Cape Cod National Seashore.

 Military projectile found on Cape Cod beach

 A military projectile possibly dating to the World War II era has been destroyed after it was found on a Wellfleet beach.

 A fisherman found the device in the sand at Marconi Beach Wednesday and alerted authorities.

 The State Police bomb squad responded, and the device was blown up on the beach at about 7 p.m.

 Officials kept curious spectators about 1,000 feet away from the explosion to protect them from shrapnel.

 Sergeant Jerry Galizio of the bomb squad told the Cape Cod Times that the color of the smoke indicated that the projectile was live when it was detonated.

 According to Galizio, the military used area beaches as practice ranges during World War II, and it is not uncommon for ordnance to be found even to this day.

Associated Press, July 25, 2014

Excuse me?

Cape Cod was once a military practice range?

Wellfleet is the town next to my own – Truro – and is famous for its world-class oysters.

I’ve lived here almost 20 years and never knew that while oyster beds were thriving on the Cape Cod Bay side of town, over on the Atlantic Ocean side there were live bombs asleep beneath the sand.

Oh, by the way … where does my other “paradise” house happen to be? Vieques, Puerto Rico.

Vieques is most famous for its role as a military practice range from World War II until 2003. That year, the U. S. Navy pulled out after continuing civil protests against the near non-stop shelling that eventually took the life of one resident.

Vieques’ most popular beaches still are identified by the old Navy designations – Red, Blue, Green. Numerous other paradisal beaches are not open to the public because of ongoing, federally funded clean-up of unexploded ordnance.

Lonely La Chiva was #1 on Trip Advisor among Vieques attractions.
Lonely La Chiva was #1 on Trip Advisor among Vieques attractions.

One of my favorite snorkeling spots, gorgeous La Chiva (“Blue”) beach, was thought for years to be bomb-free. But it’s been closed for a second look.  

Then again, I always thought Cape Cod’s beaches were bomb-free.

Marconi Beach – where the bombshell was found last week -- gets its name from the Italian inventor who in 1903 transmitted one of the first transatlantic wireless transmissions from here -- between the president of the United States and the king of England. Marconi chose the Wellfleet site because of the barrenness of the high dunes overlooking the ocean.

The government chose the area for similar reasons during World War II -- and established Camp Wellfleet as an artillery training facility. The military camp outlived its need, and in 1961 the property became part of the Cape Cod National Seashore.

As in Vieques, weaponry has a history on Cape Cod.

Paleoindian projectile points have been found at numerous locations, indicating that people have been here for at least 10,000 years.

5,000 years ago, habitation of the Cape was extensive. Artifacts dating from this period are found throughout the Cape -- projectile points in particular.

In his book, Cape Cod, Henry David Thoreau observed that Native American arrow heads could be found all over the place.

Last week, as the military projectile was detonated on Marconi Beach, spectators cheered.

But the incident serves as a somber reminder that although World War II ended seven decades ago, it is not fully behind us.

On January 3, 2014, World War II took another life.

A heavy-machinery operator was killed when his excavator hit an unexploded World War II bomb that lay hidden beneath the soil of Euskirchen, in western Germany. Thirteen others were injured, two critically.

The wrecked excavator and resulting crater from the explosion in Euskirchen.
The wrecked excavator and resulting crater from the explosion in Euskirchen.

There are still thousands of tons of munitions that lie unexploded and undiscovered. Estimates put the total load of unexploded ordnance between 95,000 and 285,000 tons. In Germany alone.

As journalist Rebecca Rosen wrote in her Atlantic magazine story about the explosion:

“One day there will be a final casualty of World War II, but chances are that we are not there yet. This war will claim the lives of those born years after it ended, its physical remnants surviving far longer than its combatants, another reminder that the present is forever an accretion of the past.”

In my next blog, “Rotten Apple.”

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  • Peter Yaremko
    published this page in Blog 2014-10-27 11:47:51 -0400