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My Coast Guard
Commentary | Jan. 5, 2024

The World War II Beach Patrol in Jacksonville Beach

By Gary R. Gray, Chaplain, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary

The Long Blue Line blog series has been publishing Coast Guard history essays for over 15 years. To access hundreds of these service stories, visit the Coast Guard Historian’s Office’s Long Blue Line online archives, located here: THE LONG BLUE LINE (   

There is a quant building at the corner of Penman Road and 4th Avenue North in Jacksonville Beach. It is currently the home of one of the aids to navigation teams for Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville. The building appears to be from a bygone era, and that is the case. It is listed as an historic site and was constructed around 1934. As hostilities increased leading to World War II, the building was used by the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard as a communications station. During times of war the Coast Guard sometimes comes under the authority of the United States Navy. 

In early 1942, there was increasing concern for the menace of German submarines along the East Coast and the possibility that they might try to land saboteurs. In the spring of that year, German U-boat attacks increased. Just before midnight June 13, 1942, Coast Guard recruit John C. Cullen was on his nightly patrol when he surprised a group of men making their way to shore in a rubber boat. Cullen overheard two men speaking in German. Cullen was able to manage the situation and slip away through the fog and reported it to his command as soon as he reached Amagansett Coast Guard Station on Long Island New York. On June 17th, only a few days later, four more German agents came ashore on Ponte Vedra Beach, just south of Jacksonville, Florida. All were apprehended, tried and convicted, but the incidents demonstrated there was a threat. 

On July 25, 1942, Coast Guard Headquarters authorized the institution of beach patrols in all areas adjacent to the coast. The intent was to observe and communicate any suspicious activity along the coastline. The patrol members came to be known colloquially as “sand pounders.” By August of 1942, the first patrols with dogs were instituted, with approximately 2,000 dogs by the close of the fiscal year. Horses were found well-suited to patrolling sandy beaches and nearly 3,000 of them were put on active duty throughout various districts. 

The horses came for the U.S. Army, along with saddles and other equipment. The Coast Guard advertised they were looking for experienced riders. Men applied from such backgrounds as horse trainers, cowboys, jockeys, rodeo riders, stunt men, Army Reserve cavalry and even polo players. Many of these were unpaid volunteers, and formed a temporary reserve organization, similar to our Auxiliary today. At its height these units employed about 24,000 men aged 17 to 73. 

This building at Penman and 4th once served as a communication station and base of operations for the Beach Patrol on Jacksonville Beach. The stables were located on the southeast corner of the compound. In 1954, the building was taken over by the United States coast Guard and has been used continuously by the service and now serves the needs of the Aids to Navigation Team. 

In addition to the unit stationed in Jacksonville Beach, there was a unit stationed a Fort  
Clinch at Fernandina Beach. There were also units stationed down the Florida coast at St. Augustine and Ponce Inlet. 

As the tide of World War II turned in favor of the allies the beach patrols began to be curtailed in 1944 and the horses were sold. Nevertheless, it was a sterling example of Semper Paratus- “Always Ready,” and the flexibility of the United States Coast Guard to adapt and respond to changing situations. It also illustrates the readiness of volunteers to respond to the needs and the willingness of the Coast Guard to utilize their help and skill. 


As a reminder of this history, Coast Guard Auxiliarist Gary R. Gray, with the permission of the officer-in-charge, has brought his horse Chance to the unit. The uniform is similar to what might have been worn by the beach patrol in this area during that era. The saddle is a 1918 McClellan Cavalry saddle that was restored by Gray. The men of the patrol were outfitted with rifles and often pistols. Lt. Cmdr. Steven Dross from Sector Jacksonville is wearing the khaki uniform that officers wore during this time. He is dressed as a Lieutenant in this portrayal. This may have been a common scene at this location in 1942. (No working firearms were used in this portrayal.)