American Soil Was Fired on During WWI

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A sign marks the spot on Nauset Beach (Joe Navas/Organic Photography)

How a Tiny Cape Cod Town Survived World War I’s Only Attack on American Soil

by Jake Klim Smithsonian.com

July 21, 1918, dawned hot and hazy in Orleans, Massachusetts. Three miles offshore, the Perth Amboy, a 120-foot steel tugboat, chugged south along the outer arm of Cape Cod en route to the Virginia Capes with four barges in tow: the LansfordBarge 766Barge 703 and Barge 740. The five vessels carried a total of 32 people, including four women and five children.

Just before 10:30 a.m., a deckhand on the Perth Amboy was startled by the sight of something white skipping through the water. The mysterious object passed wide of the tug, to the stern. Moments later, that same something crashed into the beach, sending sand high into the air in every direction. A great thunderous roar ripped through the quiet summer morning in Orleans, but those living along the beach were confused—no one was expecting rain. Though residents did not know it at the time, the town of Orleans was making history: the projectile that landed on the beach was the only fire the American mainland would receive during the First World War.

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