Just inside the 10-foot-thick walls of Battery 519 at Fort Miles, the sounds of activity bounce up and down the 440-foot-long hallway. On this particular day, a Thursday afternoon, a small but dedicated group of volunteers is at work on ongoing projects as part of the restoration of the World War II coastal protector, located inside Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes.
The voices of the “Bunker Busters,” as they are known, echo through the halls of the underground bunker, mixing with the sounds of clanging metal and power tools.
It might sound a bit different from the activities that took place in the fort nearly 75 years ago, but if you close your eyes, you can imagine the sounds made by the 2,200 soldiers who were stationed there at the height of the second World War.
The fort’s historic past will be brought to life on Saturday, April 30, during “Delaware Goes to War: Victory in Europe” a “living history” event sponsored by Cape Henlopen State Park. As part of the day’s activities, Bethany Beach resident Ferdinand Comolli will join those whose service is memorialized on the fort’s Wall of Honor.
Comolli flew 73 missions over Germany as a fighter pilot, receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery during one particular mission.
Although in his 90s and frail due to illness, Comolli recently toured the fort in advance of the April 30 event. While he trained for a time at Dover Air Force Base and has lived in Bethany Beach for many years, Comolli said he had never previously visited the fort. He was invited for a tour by Fort Miles Historical Association Secretary Michael Dunkes.
Comolli smiled as he got a chance to “fire” the 12-inch gun housed in Battery 519 and asked plenty of questions about the fort’s history and the origins of the guns that are to be housed in an artillery park now under construction on the grounds.
Visitors during the April 30 event can see the in-progress construction of an outdoor display that will gather in one location the fort’s big guns, including the 16-inch barrel that was on the U.S.S. Missouri the day the Japanese surrendered on that ship to end the war, in August 1945.
The gun barrel will be assembled, along with other parts, to form a display that will point across the bay to Cape May, N.J., when the artillery park is completed in June
“That’s the centerpiece,” said Gary Wray, president of the Fort Miles Historical Association. “That 16-inch gun is the focal point of the artillery park. We can’t wait for that to be complete,” Wray added.
Another highlight of the April 30 event will be a recreation by historians wearing U.S. and German uniforms of the surrender of German submarine U-858 in 1945 at what is now the Cape Henlopen fishing pier.
Throughout the special day, visitors can tour Battery 519 for a reduced price of $3 and see what the Bunker Busters have accomplished to restore the underground bunker that houses a 12-inch gun.
Comolli plans to be present for the Wall of Honor ceremony at 3 p.m. and will be in the fort’s media room for questions following the showing of a video telling the story of his experiences as a fighter pilot.
“This is a very important part of our Delaware Goes to War event,” Wray said of the Wall of Honor ceremony. “Every year, we honor those who have served our country in the military, and those whose families want them to be remembered,” Wray said. “It’s a lasting tribute to their loved ones.”
“This annual event reminds our guests of the importance of Fort Miles defending against German surface ships during World War II. Those ships were a very real threat at the beginning of the war, and Fort Miles was in a vital location to protect important industries in Wilmington and Philadelphia,” Wray said.
“Delaware Goes to War” begins at 10 a.m. and will include firing demonstrations of the fort’s 3-inch guns, children’s games, lectures and a band playing 1940s music. The FMHA gift shop will be open, with new merchandise, and food will be for sale.