Sunday, July 24, 2016

Escanaba Park - Grand Haven

In 1857, revetment work began in Grand Haven to maintain a channel.  These were placed to narrow and improve the channel  and also halt the erosion at the west end of the River.  This created a part in the river that was unusable to ships and was in turn used as a place to put the dredgings from the River.

Commander John Kelly who was commander of the 10th Coast Guard District thought that this area would be good spot for Coast Guard vessels.  In 1932, the Cutter Escanaba would arrive, allowing the Commander to realize one of his dreams.  However, the basin was not fully converted until after his death.  Part of it was used as a park and named Kelly Memorial Park in his honor.
 The US Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba was an A-Class Cutter that was built by Defoe Shipbuilding in Bay City, Michigan in 1932.  She was named after the River and City in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.   She was stationed in Grand Haven from her commissioning until the outbreak of World War II.

Like many of the Coast Guard cutters on the Great Lakes, her duties were icebreaking and search and rescue.  The people of Grand Haven became proud of what they considered to be their ship.

In 1941, she was transferred to Boston and she become an escort and search and rescue ship during the war.  In June of 1942, while she was escorting a convoy from Cape Cod to Halifax, she made contact with two U-boats but there was no confirmation that she sank them.  After those attacks, she rescued the crew of the SS Cherokee.  Later that month, she would be credited with the sinking of two submarines.

In February of 1943, she participated in the rescue of the USAT Dorchester.  This marked the first time that survival suits were used.   In total, she would rescue 133 survivors.  This action would earn her skipper the Legion of Merit.

On June 10, 1943, the other ships of the convoy she was escorting saw a sheet of flame shoot up from her.  There was also a pillar of smoke.  She went down so quickly, that no distress signal was sent.  Two ships were sent to rescue her crew but could only find two men alive (Boatswain's Mate Baldwin and Seaman 1st Class O'Malley) and one body (Lt. Prause).  The other 12 officers and 90 men were lost.  It is believe the two men survived because the cold water froze their clothing to the debris so they didn't sink.

The exact cause of the explosion could not be determined at the time and it was believed to have been sunk by a U-boat.  However, no U-boat took credit for her sinking.  It is also believe that she was sank by an errant mine.

The people of Grand Haven were devastated by the loss of their cutter.  As a result, they raised $1,000,000 in war bonds towards the construction of a replacement cutter to bear her name.  That cutter was commissioned in 1946.  She was originally named Ostego but that was changed to Escanaba in honor of the first cutter.  She participated in a few rescues and was scrapped in 1974.  There is a new Escanaba that serves out of Boston.
 The mast in the picture was recovered from the Escanaba that was sank in World War II.  Every year, there is a service for the crew.  In 1949, the park was renamed to Escanaba park.  Because of the reverence of the city for the Coast Guard, it was designated as Coast Guard City USA.
 The park is pretty nice.  There is this buoy.
 And it has the other cutters that have called Grand Haven home.  The Coast Guard station is still there but it doesn't typically serve as a base for the larger cutters.  During the summer, Grand Haven has the Coast Guard festival though.
 Looking up at the mast.
 A picture of the ship on the memorial.
 A plaque dedicated to the Coast Guard.
 A plaque dedicated to the enlisted men of the Coast Guard.
One more shot of the mast.  I think it's pretty cool that they were able to recover something so visible.

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