Lookout Tower hosts Armed Forces Day ceremony

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Mike Rogers, a historian for Fort Miles, dresses in a World War II era uniform of the 261st Delaware Coastal Artillery. He answered questions from visitors to the tower on Saturday, May 11.
Photos by Ellen Pfeifle/ Mike Rogers, a historian for Fort Miles, dresses in a World War II era uniform of the 261st Delaware Coastal Artillery. He answered questions from visitors to the tower on Saturday, May 11.

 LOWER TOWNSHIP – Area residents, veterans, military history buffs and patriots expect to gather at the World War II Tower here on Saturday, May 18 to celebrate Armed Forces Day.

“Coming together with others at the tower is a great way to celebrate Armed Forces Day because the tower is home to the Cape May-area veterans’ eternal flame, honoring all servicemen and women from the area,” said Dr. Bob Heinly, the museum education coordinator for the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts. “We’ll have the first public reading of a letter recently discovered from a Union officer to his family, while he was a prisoner of the Confederacy during the Civil War, and we’ll have the Elks flag ceremony, in addition to World War II era military re-enactors from the 261st Coastal Artillery Unit.”

According to Heinly, the flame was dedicated in a ceremony at last year’s Armed Forces Day.

“Visiting the tower and watching the ceremony is a great way to learn some local history,” Heinly said. “I know people under appreciate the vital role that this area played during World War II, and it underappreciated because it is underpublicized.”

The tower will open at 10 a.m. and close at 3 p.m. The ceremony will begin at 11 a.m. and last until 12:30 p.m. in the parking lot across from the tower. There will be no admission charged.

Fire Control Tower No. 23 was built in just two-and-a-half days during 1942. It was one of four such towers sited in Cape May County and one of the 15 that made up the Fort Miles military installation. The towers were strung out along the coast from North Wildwood to Delaware.

The network of towers was used to site enemy vessels and the information collected was then used to aim coastal artilleries. The Lower Township structure, located within Cape May Point State Park, is the only intact tower remaining on the Jersey side.

Although the towers in North Wildwood and Wildwood Crest were torn down entirely, the third Jersey Shore tower is located inside Cape May’s Grand Hotel at Beach and Philadelphia Avenues.

Lower’s tower was reopened for visitors in 2009, after a $1.3 million restoration, which included the spiral staircases to the tower’s viewing platform, a watch room, and interpretive panels at each level of the tower and along the wooden walkway from the street to the tower.

The third floor Wall of Honor has pictures of World War II veterans, now and then, from the greater Cape May area. There are kiosks where visitors can view newsreels and listen to interviews with area veterans.

“The re-enactors from the 261st are excellent, and will be there as long as the tower is open,” said Heinly.

Bob Mullock of the Chalfonte Hotel will read the letter from Colonel Henry Sawyer to his family, written when he was in the Confederacy’s Libby Prison. The letter will become part of the permanent display of Civil War memorabilia at the Chalfonte, which was owned by Sawyer.

“There’s a lot of things to learn about, and a lot of things to be grateful for,” Heinly said.

Armed Forces day is celebrated the third Saturday in May. The first single day celebration was in May 1950. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the day was designed to expand public understanding of what type of job was performed and the role of the military in civilian life.

The Defense Department theme for this year’s Armed Forces Day is “Strong and Resilient: Prepared to Meet Any Challenge” and recognizes each branch: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.

 
Mike Rogers, a historian for Fort Miles, dresses in a World War II era uniform of the 261st Delaware Coastal Artillery. He answered questions from visitors to the tower on Saturday, May 11.
Photos by Ellen Pfeifle/ Mike Rogers, a historian for Fort Miles, dresses in a World War II era uniform of the 261st Delaware Coastal Artillery. He answered questions from visitors to the tower on Saturday, May 11.


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