We know Salem’s history is linked to the sea, but it’s also connected to the skies.
That’s because, from 1935 to 1970, Winter Island served as the site of a U.S. Coast Guard Air Station , which operated planes that patrolled the shores between Chatham and Eastport, Maine.
“It’s a local story and a national story and a great story,” said Bonnie Hurd Smith, who just published “U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Salem, Massachusetts,” a pictorial and chronological history.
Smith’s book is also one of “Salem’s Forgotten Stories,” which is the title of a new series she will base on the Nelson Dionne Salem History Collection at Salem State University.
She will give a talk and sign copies of her book on Thursday, Aug. 20, at 5 p.m. at the Winter Island function hall.
Dionne, a lifelong collector and retired Salem police officer, donated his massive collection of books, photos and other media relating to Salem’s history to Salem State in 2013. Smith opened the series with a volume on the Winter Island station because the Coast Guard celebrated its 225th birthday on Aug. 4.
The Coast Guard’s job from the beginning was to protect trade, Smith said, and during the Second World War they guarded citizens from raids by German submarines.
“The other thing they did was save lives, over and over again,” she said. “There’s a reason their motto is ‘always ready’ — because they were.”
In addition to chronicling the bravery of Coast Guard aviators, Smith’s book addresses subjects ranging from President Franklin Roosevelt’s visit to Salem in 1938, and a seaman who took photos of UFOs over Salem in 1952.
The station had been relocated to Salem from Gloucester. After it closed, it was turned over to the city, with the understanding that it be used for the public’s benefit.
Smith ends her book by noting that federal funds are now being used to preserve Fort Pickering, which has stood on Winter Island since the 17th century. But she hopes something can also be done to restore the former Coast Guard station.
“It’s heartbreaking to see the condition of those buildings today,” she said, “and think of how important its operation was, not just to Salem but the whole coast.”