Grand Haven was founded in 1834 by Rev. William Ferry. The town is nestled along the shores of Lake Michigan and the mouth of the Grand River. Rev. Ferry picked this location because of its proximity to the water, as it was an important mode of transportation during that time. The residents know the fury of the lake, and, because of this, the town has had a long relationship with the United States Coast Guard.
The first Coast Guard Cutter to be stationed in Grand Haven was the USCGC Escanaba. It arrived on December 9, 1932. The town embraced the crew as their own and they became friends and neighbors.
She was called to convoy duty during World War II and protected supply ships in the North Atlantic. During this time, one mission stood out for the Escanaba. On February 3, 1943 the troop ship Dorchester was attacked. The Escanaba went in to pick up survivors. Crewmen donned rubber suits and went into the frigid water to perform the first ever rescue while wearing the new protective apparel. The Escanaba rescued 133 men. For this exploit, six officers and men were given posthumous awards in August, 1943.
On June 13, 1943, while escorting a convoy from Greenland to Newfoundland, the Escanaba sank in the North Atlantic. She sank in three minutes, too quickly for any sort of distress signal to be sent. The USCGC Raritan was on the scene in ten minutes and they found nothing but floating debris. Only two out of the 102 crew survived.
The citizens of Grand Haven were grief-stricken and organized a war bond drive that raised over one million dollars in three months to pay for the construction of USCGC Escanaba II. The Grand Haven area has always felt a deep connection to the Coast Guard.
To honor the sacrifice the Coast Guard makes every day, and to remember the USCGC Escanaba, we put together this video with items from the Loutit District Library’s local history collection. It contains audio from Seaman First Class Raymond O’Malley, one of the survivors of the Escanaba, and Lt. Cmdr. Sidney Broussard, Captain of the Raritan.
The full interviews can be found on the library’s Oral History page. Stop by the library’s Columbus Avenue deck to view the window display, remembering the USCGC Escanaba and honoring the brave men and women of the United States Coast Guard.