Wednesday, April 10, 2013

12017. Benjamin F. Simmons

I've mentioned in the first 12,000 entries a few times how the structure of World War I American military forces was odd to me, with balloonists, trumpeters and more. I've since found several more trumpeters, in fact. Our forces have just changed so much over time, thanks mostly to technology. But in this case, I know the full story.

Benjamin was a "Surfman, U.S. Coast Guard, World War I." I can tell you that he went back even further than that, to a time before the Coast Guard. Born in 1858, Ben was a perfect candidate to join the U.S. Life-Saving Service, a predecessor agency to the Coast Guard, which formed in 1915.

Duxbury - or Plymouth, properly - got a lifesaving station in 1874, when Ben was a teenager, and the station, at the Gurnet, a headland at the southern end of Duxbury Beach, remained there through the war. The old life-saving stations were run by keepers, manned by surfmen, men who entered the surf in small boats during storms that were pushing schooners and ships to the shore. They were true storm warriors, fighting against Mother Nature's will to save the lives of men and women they'd never met.

When the Life-Saving Service merged with the Revenue Cutter Service in 1915 to form the Coast Guard, the old designation of surfman remained. (Ben, typical of the men who served with the old Life-Saving Service, was about 60 when America entered the war; until 1915, there were no pensions, and thus they held onto their jobs until they physically couldn't any longer.) Then, for many years, the title "surfman" faded. The service brought it back recently and applied it to its hot shot coxswains, heavy weather-trained lifeboat drivers.

May the name surfman live forever, so, too, the memory of men like Benjamin Simmons.

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