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Cementing the Escanaba's legacy

Alex Doty • Aug 4, 2018 at 10:00 AM

Another new point has been added to the city’s Walk of Coast Guard History, a celebration of the U.S. Coast Guard and the legacy of Grand Haven as Coast Guard City, USA.

This year’s point honors the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Escanaba, built in 1932, stationed in Grand Haven, deployed to World War II in 1941 and sunk in 1943.

“It’s stationed in Escanaba Park,” Coast Guard Festival Executive Director Mike Smith said of the location of the newest point.

The new point, like all previous ones, includes a brass plaque describing the point of history, as well as a 15-inch Coast Guard seal.

Each point of history is chosen by the Coast Guard Festival committee and approved for placement by the city. It was started in 2006, and each year one or two points are added to the walk.

“The new point reads ‘U.S. Coast Guard cutter Escanaba (WPG-77). Tragedy of war, June 13, 1943,’” Smith said.

The newest point was unveiled during a ceremony in front of Grand Haven City Hall at noon Friday. Assisting Smith with the dedication was Hayden Simmons, 10, who won a ribbon for his poem about the Coast Guard Festival.

“We wanted to do the dedication here (at City Hall), as is traditional,” Smith said.

RELATED: Photo Gallery: Walk of Coast Guard History dedication 2018

The original Escanaba was built by Defoe Boat and Motor Works of Bay City, and it served in Grand Haven until the beginning of World War II. In February 1943, the Escanaba rescued 132 men from a torpedoed transport in the North Atlantic. Four months later, the Escanaba set out on its final mission — an Allied convoy bound for St. John’s, Newfoundland.

At 5:10 a.m. June 13, 1943, convoy members saw a flash of light and dense smoke at the perimeter of their group. The Raritan, which also was stationed in Grand Haven at one time, was one of the two cutters that rushed to the scene. The Raritan crew discovered the Escanaba had been hit by a torpedo and sunk instantly. There was only debris and two survivors: Seaman 1st Class Raymond O’Malley and Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Melvin Baldwin.

The ship’s mast and lifeboat were recovered and are part of a memorial display in Escanaba Park along Grand Haven’s waterfront.

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