A century later, on May 23 at Ocean Beach Lifeguard Station, a public ceremony and book dedication memorialized the 1918 Ocean Beach drowning, paying tribute to lifeguards past and present.
MC’d by Byron Wear, former lifeguard and council member, the event included a host of speakers and political dignitaries. Michael T. Martino, author of “Help! San Diego Lifeguards to the Rescue” (Volume 1) 1868-1941, was saluted for his participation in the Lifeguard History Project of the San Diego Lifesaving Association.
With a band providing musical accompaniment, Martino was joined by a host of lifeguards, Mayor Kevin Faulconer and District 2 Councilmember Lorie Zapf reflecting on the critical role first responders play in safeguarding San Diego’s coastal lifestyle.
Noting “it’s nice to recognize the past,” interim San Diego Lifeguard Chief James Gartland, said, “The job hasn’t changed too much: You have to watch the water, run, swim hard and help people.”
What has changed over the years, pointed out Gartland, “are some of the tools. We now operate a machine that helps keep people alive. Every vehicle, vessel and tower has a machine that we can use to revive a heart at the push of a button.”
“Today the community and the City remember the contributions of the San Diego Lifeguard Service and a one-of-a-kind book which took countless hours of research,” said Zapf, praising Faulconer for including $250,000 in the current city budget for design for a new lifeguard tower to replace OB’s aging facility.
“The reason I’m here today is to share with you the admiration I have for San Diego Lifeguards,” said Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina, a former lifeguard, before introducing Martino.
In a somewhat unorthodox speech, Martino noted that San Diego history may well have been different if local lifeguards hadn’t saved two famous people, William J. Hunker, a former San Diego mayor in 1887, and “Colonel” Ed Fletcher,” a real estate developer and pioneering politician instrumental in the development of East County in San Diego.
Of present lifeguards, Martino remarked, “They could be saving a future mayor – or president.”
Martino presented the first two copies of his lifeguard history opus to both Faulconer and Zapf.
The ceremony was capped by a remembrance lifeguard swim-out led by Lifeguard Sgt. Rick Strobel. Bagpiper Robert Burns also performed at the memorial.