The original USCGC ESCANABA (WPG-77) was commissioned on November 23,1932 in Grand Haven, Michigan. ESCANABA measured 165 feet, and was powered by a 1,500 horsepower steam turbine. The cutter was stationed in Grand Haven from 1932 until 1940. ESCANABA's primary missions were ice breaking and search and rescue on the Great Lakes.
THE FIRST ESCANABA
The first United States Coast Guard Cutter ESCANABA was built by the Defoe Boat and Motor Works of Bay City, Michigan, in 1932. The 165-foot Algonquin class cutter was named for the city and river, ESCANABA, derived from a Native American word meaning “flat rock.” She served on the Great Lakes and was stationed in Grand Haven, Michigan, until the start of WWII.
During the war, ESCANABA was assigned to convoy duty in the Atlantic. She escorted numerous convoys and participated in various search and rescue missions. In February 1943, the ESCANABA distinguished herself by rescuing 132 men from a torpedoed transport in the North Atlantic. For their outstanding heroism accomplishing this rescue mission, six officers and men of the ESCANABA were awarded posthumous decorations and commendations by Admiral Royal E. Ingersol, then Commander in Chief of the Atlantic Fleet.
Four months later, the gallant ESCANABA set out on what was destined to be her final mission. On June 10, 1943, an Allied convoy sailed from Narsarssuak, Greenland bound for St. John’s, Newfoundland, with an escort consisting of the USCGC MOHAVE (flag), USCGC TAMPA, USCGC STORIS, USCGC RARITAN and USCGC ESCANABA. The convoy proceeded to the Northwest, encountering dense fog, icebergs and dangerous navigating conditions. The convoy had been alerted to the presence of an enemy submarine in the area.
At 0510 on the morning of June 13, 1943, there was a sudden flash of light on the horizon and dense yellow and black smoke was seen rising from the perimeter of the convoy. The cutters STORIS and RARITAN were ordered to investigate. Racing to the position where the ESCANABA was last stationed, they discovered that the cutter was gone; she had been struck by an enemy torpedo and sank instantly. Within ten minutes of sighting the smoke, all that remained was debris and two survivors: Seaman First Class Raymond O’Malley and Boatswains Mate Second Class Melvin Baldwin. One hundred and one men were lost, including the Captain, Lieutenant Commander Carl Uno Peterson.
All that remains today of this proud ship are her rigged mast, her lifeboat, and a few other items, which are part of a memorial park in the City of Grand Haven. No monument will ever mark the place in the Atlantic where ESCANABA and her brave crew sank, but for the Nation she served so well she will always remain an honored memory. Her namesake carries on the traditions so firmly embedded in the history of the Coast Guard.
The newest ESCANABA recalls the heroic actions of the first ESCANABA with the ship’s motto “The Spirit Lives On.” A special tradition has evolved around that motto. Every year on the anniversary of the sinking, the entire ship’s crew assembles on the weather decks for a memorial ceremony honoring the service and sacrifice of the first ESCANABA’s crew. On that day, the ESCANABA Captain calls Mr. Raymond O’Malley, the remaining survivor of the sinking. This call is made by phone or by radio on June 13th whether ESCANABA is at sea or in port, so that the Captain can report to Mr. O’Malley on the health of the crew, the state of the ship, and our commitment that “The Spirit Lives On.”
The second ESCANABA (WHEC-64) was built by Western Pipe and Steel Company, San Pedro, California and was commissioned March 20, 1946. The ship was a 255-foot gunboat powered by a Westinghouse 4,000 turbo-electric engine, and single propeller. Full displacement tonnage was 1,978.
THE SECOND ESCANABA
ESCANABA was home ported at Alameda, California, from 1946 to 1954, and used for law enforcement, ocean station, and search and rescue operations in the Pacific.
ESCANABA was decommissioned and placed in storage from 1954 to 1957.
From 1957 to 28 June 1973, ESCANABA was stationed at New Bedford, MA, and used for law enforcement, ocean station, and search and rescue operations in the Atlantic.
In late November 1965, ESCANABA assisted the US motor vessels American Pilot and Maumee Sun following their collision west of Cape Cod Canal.
On 10 January 1966, ESCANABA rescued two survivors from motor vessel Monte Palomares that sank in heavy seas with a loss 31 lives.
On 5 February 1967, ESCANABA rescued two Cuban refugees from Elbow Cay.
In January 1969, ESCANABA was disabled 100 miles east of Virginia Beach, Virginia, when the aft bearing on the main motor burned out. ESCANABA arrived at Norfolk, VA, on 20 January.
From 28 December 1969 to 2 January 1970, ESCANABA escorted the distressed East German motor vessel Ange to Bermuda.
On 13 January 1970, ESCANABA stood by the Norwegian motor vessel Chandeleur in the mid-Atlantic until fire damage was repaired. Two days later, ESCANABA escorted the distressed Norwegian motor vessel Condo until she could proceed on her own.
On 25 March 1970, ESCANABA medevaced a crewman from the Korean motor vessel Kumsong in the mid-Atlantic.
On December 27, 1970, ESCANABA performed a dramatic rescue at sea when the crew saved the lives of 31 crewmembers from the 540 foot Finnish tanker Ragny, approximately 1,000 miles southeast of Boston in storm force winds and seas. ESCANABA was awarded the Coast Guard Unit Commendation and the Finnish Lifesaving Medal for the rescue.
ESCANABA (WHEC-64) was decommissioned on June 23, 1973
The Coast Guard Cutter ESCANABA (WMEC-907) is the seventh of thirteen Famous Class medium endurance cutters in the United States Coast Guard's inventory. Each is named after a cutter prominent in the Coast Guard's history. USCGC ESCANABA (WMEC 907) was built by R. E. Derecktor Shipyard in Middletown, Rhode Island. In fitting tribute to her namesake, she was commissioned in Grand Haven, Michigan on August 29, 1987. The third ESCANABA continues the proud tradition of her predecessors, earning awards for distinguished operational performance. ESCANABA has patrolled from the waters off New England enforcing federal and international fishing regulations to deep in the Caribbean on migrant interdiction patrols, to more recently through the Panama Canal, to the Eastern Pacific for drug interdiction missions.
See Ship’s News for the latest accomplishments from ESCANABA and her crew.
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