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Recalling the Fireworks

Recalling the Fireworks, Annual 2017 Cape Cod Life |

Photographer Chris Seufert captured this aerial image of the target ship in 2011.

That should have been the end of the line for the Longstreet, but the Navy’s Bureau of Ordnance was looking for a “target ship” on which to test new bombs it was developing, Beyle writes. In summer and fall of 1944 the ship sat in New York Harbor, the target of Navy practice bombs. Once again weather attacked; in November 1944, the ship broke its moorings during a strong gale and drifted until rescue ships spotted her December 4 and towed her to Norfolk, Virginia.

About that time the Navy launched another guided missile project called “Project Dove,” according to Beyle, using Monomoy Island in Chatham and an Army base in South Wellfleet for testing. They needed a target ship for testing the bombs over water, and the Longstreet fit the bill. “On the morning of Wednesday, April 25, 1945,” Beyle writes, “the SS James Longstreet was towed to ‘New Found Shoal’ off the Eastham-Orleans-Brewster shoreline and scuttled at 9:46 a.m. From that time since, the fireworks folks here have enjoyed over the years is history ….”

Robin Smith Johnson of Mashpee, now the newsroom librarian for the Cape Cod Times, lived in Orleans as a young girl in the early 1960s. Her home wasn’t close enough to the beach to see the show, but it was close enough to hear it. “I remember that I was sleeping and would wake up to hear the bombing,” she recalls. “It sounded like a supersonic boom. … Dad would tease us, saying it was the giant out in the bay. He was a big joker.” The sound was unsettling at first, she says, “but after a while it was almost comforting, because we knew what it was.”

Around 1965 Richard Holmes of Dennis took his then-fiancé and now wife, Agnes, to First Encounter Beach in Eastham to watch the target practice. “There were three or four fighter planes, and they laid right into that ship,” he recalls. “It scared the hell out of me at first. It came out of nowhere.” An Army veteran, Holmes was stationed at Fort Richardson near Anchorage, Alaska, just before the Vietnam War. Though he did not see combat during his enlistment, he says that watching the bombing from the beach “kind of shook me up for a couple of minutes.”

Target practice on the Longstreet ceased by the early 1970s. In his 1992 book, Beyle reports that the Longstreet Preservation Society, the organization he founded to document the history of the ship, requested that U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy ask the Navy why the bombing had stopped. Kennedy told the society that he received the following reply on June 6, 1978: “It appears there were two primary reasons for the bombing halt at James Longstreet target. First, the proximity of the target to civilian population centers made the target unsuitable for jet aircraft. Secondly, the closure of the Naval Air Station Quonset Point and the departure of the S-2 (propeller driven) aircraft removed the only potential user of the target in the immediate area.”

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