By Krystle Bono — July is a month to honor our nation’s independence and the many sacrifices our service men and women have made and continue to make in order for us to spend the day soaking up the rays and grilling out with family, all topped off with a patriotic show of fireworks. For Chincoteague residents, it is also a month to celebrate the past and the present, fusing together the island’s history and rich culture with the advances they have paved for today. The Chincoteague Coast Guard plays a pivotal role on the island helping keep the waters safe, especially during the annual pony penning when the world-famous ponies hit the water for their 600-foot ocean swim.
The line of buoys that marks the ponies’ path connecting from one island to the other is put in place days before the swim by the crew of the Chincoteague Coast Guard. They also release the kickoff signal, a cloud of red smoke that prompts the salt-water cowboys to herd the ponies into the water. The Coast Guard members are then responsible for enforcing the safety zone around the channel to protect the ponies as they make their renowned swim. Once the ponies are safely out of the water and the crowds have cleared the area to head into town for the parade to the carnival grounds, the Coast Guardsmen retreat back to their present station, located on Main Street.
Constructed in 1874, the original station was situated on the southern end of Assateague and was the area’s station until January 1967, when it was decommissioned and became part of the Assateague Island National Seashore. Due to changes in the region’s landscape, the Assateague Beach Coast Guard Station was relocated to Toms Cove in 1922 for better preservation. Station 150 includes a station house, boathouse, lookout tower, several service buildings, and its own dilapidated pier and boardwalk from many years of weathering the elements. In 2015, it joined the list of National Register of Historic Places.
Assateague Lighthouse, another historically acclaimed landmark that has been webbed into the Island’s culture, is maintained by the Coast Guard as an active navigational aid, but in 2004, ownership was transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge is responsible for preserving its structural integrity.
Many Coast Guard retirees have remained residents of Chincoteague, and because of the abundance of veteran Coast Guardsmen, the annual Coast Guardsmen of Yesteryear Breakfast was born, held every Satur-day morning before Veterans Day at Chincoteague Combined School since 1999. Last year’s breakfast served 65 with a combined 1,095 years of service, and attendees enjoyed time well spent remembering those lost, paying tribute to those current, and meeting new faces that will continue to uphold the Coast Guard’s island legacy.