Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw spreads holiday cheer

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Story and photos by PA2 Bill Colclough, Ninth District Public Affairs

(Left: Coast Guard Auxiliary and crewmembers of the Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw offload Christmas trees for Chicago-area needy families during this year’s Christmas Tree Ship operation.)

For the ninth-straight year, the Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw loaded the decks with more than 1,500 Christmas trees for delivery to Chicago-area disadvantaged families on behalf of the Ada S. McKinley Community Services and the Chicago Christmas Ship Committee. The event kicked-off with a solemn dedication to the crew of the original Christmas Ship, the Rouse Simmons, which sank offshore Wisconsin on a stormy night in November 1910 with a load of 5,500 trees.

“[W]ithout a Christmas tree, there is no Christmas,” said Ruth Flesvig, who once waited for the ill-fated Rouse Simmons bounty of fresh trees.

This year, for one particular little boy and his family, the Mackinaw brought hope for a special holiday season by presenting the first tree to him along with smiles and wishes for a safe holiday. Two other families also received trees prior to the start of the official offloading ceremony on a balmy 30 to 40-degree Chicagoland day, which was a sunny, snowless gift in and of itself for all involved.

(Right: Two volunteers help offload Christmas trees aboard the Mackinaw’s buoy deck during the official offloading ceremony Dec. 5, 2009; volunteers from the U.S. Navy Sea Cadets, the Young Marines and other charitable organizations contributed their efforts.)

During the current age of economic uncertainty, failing banks and news of foreclosures, the public can count on, or if you will, bank on this: no needy family in the Chicago area goes without a Christmas tree while the Mackinaw is performing the mission.

That’s because, since December 2000, the Mackinaw (WLBB-30) has performed this act of festivity every year on the first Saturday in December. The predecessor Mackinaw (WAGB-83) resumed the tradition of the original Christmas ship in 2000 when it delivered the first load of trees in nearly a century.

(Right: A member of the Mackinaw releases a tree down the ship’s starboard-side ladder to an awaiting queue of volunteers for the 2009 Christmas Tree Ship event.)

Herman Schuenemann christened, if you will, the first Christmas ship in 1896 with the purchase of a three-masted schooner, the Rouse Simmons. Schuenemann docked this bedecked schooner on the riverbank near the Clark Street Bridge.

From stem to stern, the Mackinaw’s crew marked the season with the hues of the holiday placing wreaths and trees abreast red-and-green navigational buoys, which are like bright and bobbing ornaments that light a path for a mariner’s safe return home.

And in honor of Capt. Schuenemann’s note-in-a-bottle inscribed with the final words, “ I guess we are through, God help us,” the Coast Guard and hundreds of volunteers continue to answer the call to fulfill a bounty of evergreen goodwill.

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