Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba crew lays wreath in remembrance

Cmdr. Benjamin Spector, the commanding officer of USCGC Escanaba (WMEC 907), sends a wreath overboard during a ceremony to remember the USCGC Escanaba (WPG 77) lost in 1943. While escorting a convoy from Greenland to Newfoundland, the ship suffered an explosion and sank within minutes, leaving only two survivors and one body out of the 105-man crew to be found by rescuers. The current Escanaba is a 270-foot Famous-class medium endurance cutter with a crew of around 100. The crew conducts missions emphasizing maritime security and law enforcement (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Dyxan Williams.)

Cmdr. Benjamin Spector, the commanding officer of USCGC Escanaba (WMEC 907), sends a wreath overboard during a ceremony to remember the USCGC Escanaba (WPG 77) lost in 1943. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Dyxan Williams.)

Story by Petty Officer 3rd Class Dyxan Williams

It was a somber chilly day as the fog set in. The crew put on their dress uniforms out of respect. Chief Boatswain’s Mate Mike Emmons blew the whistle as the Escanaba’s Commanding Officer Benjamin Spector took a wreath and walked past the side boys to send it off into the cold Arctic Region water in remembrance of the original Escanaba (WPG 77) lost nearby over 75 years ago.

The original Escanaba served during World War II, patrolling in the Arctic to defend the nation from threats coming from the north, often serving on convoy duty to protect supplies from German submarines. June 13, 1943, was that last day for the Escanaba as it sank below the surface of the Arctic waters, losing 101 men. Raymond O’Malley was found with Seaman Melvin Baldwin, gripping a large log used to protect lifeboats. Lt. Prause was also rescued but later died of his injures.

With the new Escanaba carrying its name and legacy, it has become a tradition for the commanding officer to contact the survivors. O’Malley has participated in many events over the years, including the annual festival in Grand Haven. O’Malley passed in 2019 at a Chicago-area hospital at the age of 86. The Escanaba command continues to reach out to the family.

78 years after that fateful day, the current Escanaba participated in Operation Nanook, joint-service sovereignty and maneuver exercise conducted with the Canadian Armed Forces and Royal Danish Navy. While deployed to the High North, the Escanaba had the honor of crossing over the original ship’s last location and honor the crew with a wreath-laying ceremony.

“With our rich history and close ties to the family of the last living survivor of Escanaba, it only fitted that we conduct this ceremony while we operate in the same seas our namesake patrolled during World War II and where she was tragically sunk off the coast of Greenland in June of 1943,” said Spector. “The ceremony was a fitting tribute to the 101 men who lost their lives that day. What made it even more special was the incredible musical performances provided by our very own talented crewmembers.”

After the wreath was laid by the commanding officer, Maritime Enforcement Specialist 3rd Class Colin Holsinger played “Taps” on his trumpet, and Electricians Mate 3rd Class Sean Morrisey sang “Eternal Father.”

The original Escanaba was commissioned in Grand Haven, Michigan, also the original homeport. Grand Haven is now home to Escanaba Park, where the recovered mast and lifeboat from the Escanaba remain as a memorial post for the residents of Grand Haven and visitors to see and learn the history. The present-day Escanaba last visited Grand Haven in the summer of 2018 for the 75th anniversary of the sinking of the Escanaba, where the survivor’s family was also in attendance.

Ceremonies like these are important for crew morale and historical understanding. It helps to think about the ship’s name and who they represent every day when they are out on patrol.

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