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Esky rescues hundreds before meeting its own tragedy

• Jun 26, 2018 at 5:00 PM

The Tribune published a story a couple of weeks ago on the first Coast Guard cutter named Escanaba and its sinking during World War II duty on the anniversary of the tragedy. This blog link is the Coast Guard’s own story on the Escanaba, but it focuses on two lesser-known side stories — one that took place a year earlier and another about four months prior to its own loss.

The Escanaba saved about 150 men who were cast into a very cold sea in April 1943. “Most of the men were helpless due to the cold, their hands and feet were frozen, many were unconscious, and only one group were in a boat,” Coast Guard Atlantic Area historian William H. Thiesen wrote for “The Long Blue Line” series.

“In early 1942, (Bob) Prause received orders that would forever associate his name with a famed cutter of World War II. He shipped out to serve as executive officer aboard the Escanaba, homeported in Grand Haven, Michigan. In June, Escanaba changed stations from the Great Lakes to Boston to become part of the Coast Guard’s Greenland Patrol. Over the course of the next year, Escanaba served as an escort for convoys steaming between U.S. and Canadian ports and on to Greenland in arguably the worst sea and weather conditions in World War II.

“On Monday, June 15, 1942, an event took place that made a lasting impression on Prause. While escorting a convoy from Nova Scotia to Greenland, a U-boat attack sank the passenger steamer Cherokee, plunging nearly 170 passengers and crew into the bone-chilling seas. Within minutes, the shock of the water temperature had incapacitated Cherokee’s survivors. Desperate to rescue as many men as possible, Prause dangled head first over the side of the cutter while his shipmates held his legs. In spite of the threat of submarine attack and heavy seas, Prause and Escanaba managed to save 22 survivors.”

In February 1943, the Escanaba rescued 177 from the U.S. Army Transport Dorchester when it sank after a torpedo strike.

Read the complete blog post: “The Long Blue Line: 75 years ago – Escanaba rescues hundreds then perishes.”

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