In mid June, 1990, I stepped aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba for the first time. She was (is) a medium endurance cutter based in Boston.
For the next two years, I’d work on the Escanaba, patrolling from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, to the coast of Venezuela through the Panama Canal to the eastern Pacific Ocean. Her history is far more extensive.
Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba (WPG-77)
The first Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba was commissioned in 1932 in Grand Haven, Michigan. She was 165 feet long and until 1940 conducted ice breaking and search and rescue operations on the Great Lakes while based out of Grand Haven.
During World War II, she was assigned convoy duty and distinguished herself on several escort missions. In June, 1943, she was escorting a convoy from Greenland to Newfoundland. On June 13, she was attacked and sunk by a German submarine.
Only two members of the crew survived and 101 were killed. The two survivors were Seaman First Class Raymond O’Malley and Boatswains Mate Second Class Melvin Baldwin and I actually met both men briefly in 1990.
From the Escanaba website, this spirit lives on today: “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 the relatives of Mr. Raymond O’Malley, the last remaining survivor of the sinking who passed away in 2021. 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 the family 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)
The second Escanaba was a 250-foot gunboat. Commissioned in 1946, she was initially based in Alameda, California where she conducted law enforcement and search and rescue operations.
Oddly, she was actually decommissioned and placed in storage from 1954 until 1957.
In 1957, she was recommissioned and served out of New Bedford, Mass. During that service, she participated in a number of significant rescue operations, including the rescue of 31 crew of 540 foot the Finnish tanker Ragny during storm-force winds and seas about 1,000 miles off Boston. For her heroism the Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba received the Coast Guard Unit Commendation and the Finnish Lifesaving Medal.
She was decommissioned in 1973.
My Escanaba (WMEC-901) is a 270-foot medium endurance cutter with a crew of about 100. She continues to operate today, having been commissioned in 1987,
I currently possess eight covers that commemorate events and history of the Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba. These include one cover from the second Escanaba and the rest from the current ship.
To date, I’ve never run across a cover from the first Escanaba.