Memorial of Escanaba's sinking planned

Alex Doty • Apr 30, 2018 at 2:00 PM

We’re still three months away from the start of the 2018 Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival, but organizers are planning a special event to honor the Escanaba in June.

“On June 13, 1943, the Escanaba exploded in the North Atlantic as part of a war convoy — 101 sailors were lost, (with) two survivors,” Coast Guard Festival Executive Director Mike Smith said. “This year is the 75th anniversary of that sinking.”

In remembrance of that date, the festival plans to host a memorial service on Wednesday, June 13, at Escanaba Park. Grand Haven City Council earlier this week gave the festival the go-ahead to host the memorial service at 11 a.m. that day.

“We’ll be dedicating an area with the names of the individual sailors who were lost during that time, as well as the names of the two survivors,” Smith said. “There will be a public memorial service as if those sailors died on that day this year.”

Smith said that because of the help of the Loutit and Grand Haven Area Community foundations, American Legion, Chief Petty Officers Association, Grand Haven Garden House, and Klaassen and Sytsema funeral homes, the festival is able to build “a more sacred area” in the same park and same footprint.

Guests slated to attend the June 13 event include Grand Haven Mayor Geri McCaleb; Rear Adm. Joanna Nunan, Coast Guard 9th District commander; and Cmdr. Michael A. Turdo, commanding officer of the current U.S. Coast Guard cutter Escanaba.

Built by Defoe Boat and Motor Works of Bay City, the original Escanaba 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. They 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.

Grand Haven residents organized a war bond drive and raised more than $1 million within three months to pay for a second Escanaba, which was commissioned in 1946. The second Escanaba was decommissioned in 1974 and scrapped. It never visited Grand Haven.

In 1987, the current Escanaba was commissioned in Grand Haven, and is stationed in Boston.

It was announced in March that the Escanaba would return to Grand Haven for this year’s festival, which runs July 27 to Aug. 5.

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