Grand Haven has celebrated its unique relationship with the Coast Guard since the early 1900s, when the U.S. Life Saving Service established a station in this Lake Michigan shoreline community. Today, Grand Haven is known as "Coast Guard City U.S.A" in recognition of her special relationship with the longest continuous seagoing service of our nation.
The first cutter home ported in Grand Haven was USCGC Escanaba (WPG-77). She arrived, coated with ice, in the winter of 1932 to a warm welcome by the community and the Grand Haven High School band. She was a "Michigan" ship from the beginning, built at Defoe Works in Bay City and commissioned soon after for the arduous duty of icebreaking on Lake Michigan. In early 1942, Escanaba was transferred to war duty in the North Atlantic and assigned to the "Greenland Patrol".
While carrying out escort duties for many of the Allied convoys bound for Greenland and Iceland, Escanaba rescued survivors of two torpedoed ships, the USS Cherokee, rescuing 22 men on June 15, 1942 and the USS Dorchester, rescuing 133 more on February 3, 1943. Four months later, Escanaba was steaming in company with the cutters Mojave, Tampa, Storis, Algonquin and Raritan providing protection to a convoy enroute to Newfoundland. During the early morning hours of June 13, 1943, Escanaba herself was torpedoed and quickly sank. Raritan picked up the only two survivors, while 101 friends and neighbors of Grand Haven were lost forever to both the perils of war and the sea.
The anguish of this small, close-knit community over the devastating loss of Escanaba was channeled into raising one million dollars in war bonds to purchase a replacement cutter the following year. The third, and most recent Escanaba, a 270-foot Famous Class cutter, was commissioned during festival week in Grand Haven in 1987. The highlight of the annual Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival celebration is the National Memorial Service at Escanaba Park on the Grand Haven waterfront. This Friday-afternoon event during every festival week commemorates the tragic loss of the first Escanaba in World War II and the sacrifice of all Coast Guard members who have died while fulfilling the Coast Guard Motto "SEMPER PARATUS" ("Always Ready").
It has always been the citizens of Grand Haven whose remembrance of the first Escanaba have given the proud cutter and her brave crew immortality. This is the special gift they share every year with all Coast Guard men and women, and all of the visitors to the Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival. As the U.S. Coast Guard, Grand Haven, and the nation forge ahead into the 21st century, every "Coastie" knows that "Coast Guard City, USA" will always be there to come "home" to.