A Grand entrance

Becky Vargo • Aug 2, 2016 at 8:00 AM

Thousands of people lined the Grand Haven channel to cheer on the Coast Guard Festival’s Parade of Ships Monday afternoon.

Among them, the Wonsang family waited anxiously for the final vessel in the fleet to arrive.

Will and Debbie Wonsang’s son, Samuel Wonsang, was aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Hollyhock – a 225-foot buoy tender that is based in Port Huron.

The family made their way to Coast Guard City from their home in New Braunfels, Texas, to see their son. They dressed alike in gray T-shirts with the words, Semper Paratus on the back. They hadn’t seen Samuel in almost a year.

“We drove up in an RV from Texas,” Debbie said.

“We’re picking him up (at the end of the festival),” Will said. “He’s coming home on leave and then flying back.”

Samuel’s sisters, Brittany, Ashley and Emily, waited along with his friend from high school, Kevin Rice and Samuel’s dog, Zen.

“There he is, there he is!” the girls yelled excitedly as Samuel waved from the bridge of the Hollyhock. 

When the young man was finally able to leave the ship, he was greeted with lots of tears and hugs.

The Hollyhock was one of three U.S. Coast Guard cutters in the parade that also included the Mobile Bay and the Morro Bay.

The Canadian Coast Guard Ship Constable Carriere led the flotilla, accompanied by Coast Guard Station Grand Haven lifeboats, the rigid hulled inflatable, Coast Guard Auxiliary boats, Coast Guard port authority boats and Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department Marine Patrol.

“We love it,” said former Grand Haven resident Greg White, who was accompanied by Christina Perrine of Kenosha, Wisconsin, and John Pitsch of Grand Haven. “It’s just nice to do something for the Coast Guard.”

Tony and Laura Wedeven of West Olive brought their daughter, Josalyn, 5, and their twins, Kate and Alex, 2, to watch from Escanaba Park 

“We got here early,” Tony said explaining their blanket parked on the grass right behind the police tape separating spectators from the work area where the vessels were docking. “We always come out and watch the boats.”

Coast Guard Festival President Scott Klaassen, who was one of the dignitaries riding aboard the Hollyhock, said it was a smooth ride into port.

“And it was really something like I’ve never seen before,” he said of the crowds lining the channel. “We cheered at them saying ‘Holly’ and they would cheer back, ‘Hock.’”

Hollyhock Executive Officer David Lieberman held on to Wonsong’s dog while the crewman’s family toured the ship.

“I consider Michigan my home,” said Lieberman, who has visited Grand Haven while doing tours on the Mackinaw and the Hollyhock. He was also stationed in Cleveland, Ohio.

Lieberman said he plays on a Coast Guard softball team and uses the Coast Guard Festival as a reunion every year.

He encouraged the public to make sure to visit the ships, all of which will have tour schedules this week.

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