The Unsinkable Andy Sannino: Tales from His 1941 Season with the Sea Isle City Beach Patrol
By Joseph A. LaRosa Jr., Ed.D.
Andy Sannino poses on a lifeguard stand in 1941.
Andy Sannino and his sister Mary Monichetti celebrating her 90th birthday with a party at Mike’s Seafood and Dock Restaurant.
Andrew “Andy” Sannino was born in Sea Isle City in a house on 42nd Street near Central Avenue on the day that World War I ended, Nov. 11, 1918. Andy’s parents, Giuseppe and Filomena, purchased a large home on 43rd Street in 1920 and raised Andy along with his seven siblings. Andy attended the local elementary school and graduated from Ocean City High School, Class of 1937.
Along with many of the Italian-Americans who called Sea Isle City home, his family was employed in the local commercial fishing industry. In addition to going out on the boats, his family operated two fish markets. The local store was up the street from their home on 43rd and Landis Avenue, and another was in the Italian Market section of Philadelphia. Named Sannino’s Fish Market, with the tagline “The Sea Isle ‘City’ Fish Market,” the Philadelphia store provided fresh, local fish to the city dwellers while also promoting the community.
For the summer of 1941, rather than go out with the commercial fishing boats, 22-year-old Andy decided to join his brothers Jim and Chris on the Sea Isle City Beach Patrol. Jim had already been on the patrol for a number of years, having joined the squad in the mid-1930s.
The tryout consisted of a swimming test that he easily passed. He was then given a uniform and a whistle, and hit the beach. Rather than a “rookie school,” he received on-the-job training at the hands of the senior guard on his beach section. Amazingly, he was usually assigned to sit with his older brother Jim on the 43rd Street beach, just down the street from their house. It was also where the headquarters “tent” was located. Chris, his younger brother, was assigned to be a “substitute” lifeguard, filling in when others were off or absent. One of the great benefits of working the 43rd Street stand was that his mother provided him with a fresh lunch daily, delivered by one of his sisters.
Andy Sannino is flanked by SICBP alumni Dr. Joseph LaRosa (left) and Dr. Tom McCann.
Morning roll call followed basically the same format as it does 78 summers later. In 1941, the staff was assembled by Captain John Oakes, and the daily beach assignments were given out. Tides, weather, and special circumstances and surf conditions were explained to the guards before they went to their beaches. There were usually two men assigned to each station.
The guards worked in box stands that they moved up and down the beach with the daily ebb and flow of the tide. A surf boat was assigned to the 43rd Street beach. It is interesting to note that in 1941 the boats did not have rounded oar locks, but rather two spike-like tholepins between which the guards placed the oars while they rowed. Entering and exiting the boat was a tricky affair as the guards did their best not to be impaled on the pins.
In addition to the boat, each stand had two “can” rescue buoys. Unlike today’s molded plastic torpedoes, or even the fiberglass or canvas-covered balsa-wood rescue buoys of later times, the rescue apparatus was actually a metal “can.” The can was sealed watertight, and rigged with line. It served as the main lifesaving device while on a rescue.
One day while working on the 43rd Street beach with his brother Chris, Andy was alerted to a bather in distress. After going out alone and completing the rescue, it was immediately suspected that the “rescue” was only a ploy by an attractive young woman to meet the lifeguard. Unfortunately for her, she wasn’t rescued by the object of her desire, but by his brother. However, in the end the ploy worked out beautifully, as she indeed met Andy’s brother, the man of her dreams. They married three years later, and were together for 44 years while raising three children.
Conditions permitting, guards were required to go out on boat layout patrol daily. Andy fondly recalls rowing out in the morning before the crowds at the 43rd Street beach to an area off the Madeline Theater and fishing pier at 42nd Street and meeting up with fellow guard Mike Castaldi, who was assigned the 39th Street beach. The two friends would catch up on each other’s comings and goings until they were redirected back to their respective beaches by Captain Oakes.
One day while on boat layout, Andy decided to come back to shore. The wind had shifted to the northeast, and the surf was starting to build. Rowing alone, he brought the boat in stern-first. While in the surf, the boat was picked up by a big wave and slammed down. As the boat’s transom hit the ocean, it created a big fan of water, obscuring the boat from the boardwalk. Additionally, as the boat broached, Andy was thrown out. One of his hands got caught between the tholepins and he was dragged along with the boat toward shore. Above the beach on the boardwalk, the event was unfolding before one of the city’s patrolmen, Elmer Peterson. Peterson was nicknamed “Two-Gun Pete” by the townspeople as a term of local affection. Upon seeing the wave crash the boat and Andy being thrown, he immediately sent another community member to Andy’s house down 43rd Street with the report that “the lifeguard had drowned.” Upon getting the message, Andy’s mother was too overcome with emotion to see which one of her sons had suffered a tragedy and sent her daughter Cecilia. When she got to the beach, she found Andy wet but in excellent health. His mother was immediately notified and obviously was relieved.
Sannino only had the opportunity to work on the patrol for one summer. As the summer of 1941 turned into fall, he found himself in the United States Army. By the summer of 1942, the nation was again at war. During the war, Andy fought in the European theater of operations as a staff sergeant with the U.S. Army Air Corps.
Upon returning to Sea Isle after his discharge, he found many changes to the community. The most pleasant change was that the girl who grew up directly across the street from him had matured into a beautiful woman. Andy Sannino and Ida “Joan” Dever were married on May 12, 1951. Andy took a job in Camden with RCA and began commuting to work daily from Sea Isle. The couple eventually decided to move “temporarily” to the Fairview section of Camden to cut down on Andy’s travel time. The “temporary” became permanent for about 40 years while Andy and Joan raised their six children. They eventually moved to Williamstown, where they lived until she passed away in 2008. The Sannino family members also continued to reside on 43rd Street from the warm spring through fall months until the house was sold in 1990.
At the age of 100, Andy Sannino is still a proud alumnus of the Sea Isle Beach Patrol. He speaks freely and fondly of growing up in Sea Isle and his time with his brothers on the Sea Isle City Beach Patrol.
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