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October 27,  2009
Island History:  Memorial marker for U.S. Navy
Beach Jumpers dedicated on Ocracoke




Sixty-six years have passed since Ocracoke Island became the site of an “advanced amphibious training base,” where tactical cover and deception units were organized and trained for the U.S. Navy.  Known as the Beach Jumpers, the operation was designed to promote seaborne deception in World War II.

The training was conducted in secret, and few knew of its existence at the time. Since then, there has been minimal publicity about this operation.

Last Friday, however, on Oct. 23, the U.S. Navy Beach Jumper Association had a reunion at Ocracoke, and a newly engraved black memorial marker was unveiled and dedicated at Loop Shack Hill, just outside the village.

The saga of Ocracoke’s Beach Jumpers will now be available to all, adding one more chapter to the island’s fascinating history.

The story begins with a name familiar to many--actor Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., star of such movie hits as “The Sun Never Sets,” “Gunga Din,” and “The Fighting O’Flynn.”

 At the beginning of World War II, Fairbanks gave up his acting career to join the U.S. Navy, and was stationed in England on a special assignment with British Admiral Lord Mountbatten’s Commandos. Their task was to set up fake invasions to get Germany to move its war equipment to certain locations, while the British invasion actually took place somewhere else.

When Lt. Fairbanks came back to the United States, he went to see Navy Admiral H. K. Hewitt and proposed setting up an American Beach Jumper operation.

Hewitt sent him to Washington, D.C., to talk to Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander-in-Chief, U. S. Fleet, and Chief of Naval Operations, who acted on his suggestion. However, Sullivan put Capt. Anthony Rorshack in command because his rank was higher than Fairbanks. The admiral assigned 180 officers and 300 enlisted men to be trained.

The men began arriving at Ocracoke’s amphibious training base during the winter of 1943-44, and began training to become part of Units 6, 7, 8 and 9.

The training base was considered highly secretive, and during the years of its operation, no one was allowed to go on Ocracoke’ beaches or near the base. The men were trained to set up mock or dummy invasions, using such tactics as setting off firecrackers and smoke pots to simulate battle. They used loud speakers and tape recorders to project the sounds of battle from the decks of P.T. boats, and they sent up balloons covered with tin foil to interfere with communications.

After practicing the maneuvers at Ocracoke, the units, described on the Beach Jumper Association Web site as “tactical cover and deception units,” were sent to the battle fronts of the Pacific.

The Beach Jumpers were active from 1943 to 1946 and again from 1951 to 1972. They played a part in the Vietnam War as well as in World War II. Beach Jumper Lt. Felix Harvey, said, tongue in cheek, the initials “B J” stood for “Scare the beejezus out of them.”

The dedication and unveiling on Ocracoke last week were set up as part of this year’s Beach Jumpers annual three-day reunion.

Several of the Beach Jumpers who trained at Ocracoke were present, including then Lt. Charles Felix Harvey, now turning 90, CRT Edwin Benjamins, and ETM Norris Fanning. Also present was Vera Fairbanks, widow and third wife of Douglas Fairbanks. The reunion also included Beach Jumpers who trained at other places.

The event began with a presentation at the Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum, with such speakers as Doug Stover of the National Park Service, U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Daniel Haynes of the Fifth District, Ocracoke historian Earl O’Neal, and several of the Beach Jumpers.

Afterwards people were invited to drive out to Loop Shack Hill, a national historic site located just northeast of the village off Highway 12, for the unveiling of the memorial marker. The marker commemorates not just the Beach Jumpers who trained at Ocracoke but all U. S. Navy Beach Jumpers from 1943 to 1972.

Refreshments were served afterwards at the Ocracoke Community Center. More than 200 people attended the event.

The part Ocracoke Island played in World War II is an amazing story in many ways, and one that has just come to light in recent years. Few Americans knew at the time how many German U-boats moved along America’s eastern waters, how close they came to this country’s shore, or how many American merchant ships were torpedoed during World War II.

The operation at Loop Shack Hill, according to Ocracoke historian Earl O’Neal, was set up before the base was built. It was a top-secret facility, established to receive pulses from a magnetic cable that ran from Ocracoke to Buxton. The purpose of the cable was to track German U-boats and other ships and protect shipping along the coast. The pulses were signals that could be read from Loop Shack Hill, indicating when something--possibly a German submarine -- was in the vicinity.

The Navy Base was built at Ocracoke, said O’Neal, to refuel five patrol boats that moved up and down the Outer Banks. It was intended to provide personnel, boats, and technical support for Allied convoys that operated along the coast. Set up to house 400 enlisted men, it had a mess capacity for 1,500 people. Minefields were set out by men using boats, another reason people were warned to stay away from the beaches. The base closed in1946.

A new exhibit of World War II Beach Jumper photographs in the hallway of the Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum provides a fascinating look into their history.

The exhibit, put together by Earl O’Neal and Janey Jacoby, is open to the public Monday through Saturday through Nov. 28, when the museum closes for the season.

O’Neal was instrumental in the organization of the Beach Jumpers commemorating event, the establishment of the marker, and the creation of the exhibit at the museum. He was made an honorary associate member of the Beach Jumpers Association in acknowledgement and appreciation of his work.

For more information on the U.S. Navy Beach Jumpers, go to



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