Target Ship

Years ago military planes practiced nighttime bombing raids on the hulk of the James Longstreet, a decommissioned Liberty ship grounded a few miles off the beach in Cape Cod Bay. You could hear the concatenations from our house in Harwich, on the other side of the Cape. We knew it was “the target ship” even though it sounded like thunder, and sometimes my mom or sister and I would jump in the car and race over to Brewster to watch. During the day if you trained binoculars on it you could see right through the metal that was filigreed by explosions. It was a fixture in the bay for years, a part of the view across the water as long as I could remember.  At low tide it could become distorted, an immense mirage seemingly sitting high and dry on the tidal flats. The planes would sweep in on their bombing runs in single file, unseen in the night till they switched on their angled incandescent spot beams to locate the hulk. Then they’d switch off their lights and drop their payloads, which exploded with a spearing flash and a submarine bombination. Bombing practice became a kind of serious fireworks display, and the show went on for years. The last time I saw it my friend Chris and I raced over in my baby blue Chevy Impala—or was it my VW Fastback?— to watch the ship take another pounding.  Eventually the ship was reduced to smithereens, only fangs of shattered rust standing above the water. The bombing runs stopped, and the remaining steel of the ship was salvaged or taken by the sea. Now the seascape no longer features that haunted sight of a stranded ship, and the nights no longer resound with the thunder of pounding bombs, a sound both thrilling and chilling.

Comments are closed.