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A new monument honors our 'Coasties'

• Sep 12, 2018 at 5:00 PM

The distinctive sound of a spinning helicopter rotor sounds like life-saving music to anyone in trouble on the water.

The officers and enlisted personnel who work out of U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City have rescued many souls during its 72 years of operation.

The Sept. 6 dedication of a monument to the air station and its personnel offers a token of appreciation from the community — for all the people saved in the past seven decades. The monument consists of a metal sculpture of a helicopter over a brick, stone and wood base.

The artwork is based on a design submitted by Mallory Heiges, a Traverse City West Senior High School student when she entered a contest seeking ideas for the monument project. She partnered with metal artist Matt Coffey on the final design.

A host of local groups helped make the project happen. Rotary Charities, the Biederman Foundation and others donated funds. Volunteers helped create the brick and stone base.

Commissioned in 1946, the air station now operates over all of Lake Michigan and over large portions of Lake Superior and Lake Huron. Back then, the air station operated a single fixed-wing aircraft primarily tasked with helping search and rescue operations in the Great Lakes. The air station's current staff of 17 officers and 117 enlisted personnel operates three helicopters based at Cherry Capital Airport.

Over the years, Coast Guard personnel have rescued fishermen, recreational boaters and freighter crews.

Air Station helicopters worked through four days of gale conditions to assist in the 1961 evacuation of the crew of the Francisco Morazán, which ran aground off South Manitou Island. The ship's deteriorating hull still fascinates visitors. Traverse City Air Station crews rescued 25 survivors of the collision between the Cedarville and the Topdalsford in 1965, and 19 survivors from a fire aboard the Canadian freighter Cartiercliffe Hall in 1979.

Traverse City always has valued the presence of the Coasties, as they're affectionately known. Stan Simons, chairman of the city's Coast Guard City Committee, said he made establishment of the monument a personal mission.

The Traverse City community is among just 21 municipalities in the U.S. that Congress has designated as Coast Guard Cities, according to the USCG. The designation aims to recognize places that make special efforts to honor the men and women who serve as Coasties.

The Grand Traverse Bay area has a long tradition of hosting not only the Coast Guard but also its predecessor, the U.S. Life-Saving Service, according to Traverse City City Manager Marty Colburn.

Last week’s dedication makes a visual and public statement that Traverse City honors the men and women of the Coast Guard and their contribution to safety in the Great Lakes. The monument will offer a daily reminder of the military personnel who live and work in the community — even on days when actual helicopters aren't hovering over the bay or soaring overhead en route to a rescue mission.


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