A one-time "Queen of the Fleet" for the U.S. Coast Guard may find a permanent home in the Twin Ports, if a local fundraising effort is successful.
The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Acushnet was the last remaining World War II-era ship in active duty when it was decommissioned in 2011. The U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps' Twin Ports Division this week launched an effort to raise the $250,000 needed to purchase the cutter and bring it to the Duluth-Superior harbor from its current home in Anacortes, Wash.
The Acushnet would serve as a permanent training vessel for Navy Cadets, but it has the potential to be a point of interest for residents and tourists, a scientific research vessel for universities, an assistance vessel for rescues and large events, and a training vessel for the Coast Guard Auxiliary and Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps, said Ltjg. Davan Scott, commanding officer of the Twin Ports Division.
"(The Acushnet) has quite a storied history behind it. Duluth, being that it's the world's largest freshwater harbor, it makes sense to have something like this in the Twin Ports," Scott said.
The Acushnet began its service as the USS Shackle in the U.S. Navy in 1943, when one of its first missions was to help clear the channels of debris left by the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It became the Acushnet in the U.S. Coast Guard beginning in 1946. Its service included rescuing 18 crew members on one of two ships broken in half during the 1952 New England storm that found notoriety in the film, "The Finest Hours."
The Acushnet was created to meet the challenges of World War II, at a time when U.S. citizens were coming together rather than dividing, said Steven Lindsey of Keene, N.H., a former Coast Guardsman with an interest in maritime preservation.
"This was our country at its best, I think," Lindsey said. "This ship comes from a time when everyone pulled together and we were one as a people as we ever were. That ship was one of the products of that time. I think it would be cool for the veterans, if we could keep this reminder around for them."
The training and skills learned in the Navy Cadets is "the real deal," Scott said.
With units in 47 states and more than 12,000 members, the Navy Cadets provides training for teenagers between 13 and 18 years old using the Navy's curriculum, including the completion of boot camp at Camp Dodge, Iowa. The Twin Ports Division specializes in medical and firefighting training, Scott said.
Although Scott spent several years in the Twin Ports Division before enlisting in the U.S. Navy in 2006, the Navy Cadets is a volunteer organization -- joining doesn't mean the child has enlisted in the military, he explained. The Twin Ports Division has existed since 2002 and has 23 cadets -- with four new cadets soon to join the unit -- and four officers, with a fifth officer also joining soon, he said.
The unit trains at the American Legion in West Duluth during the winter, and on the Sundew, a decommissioned Coast Guard cutter now privately owned in Duluth, during the summers. But changing locations seasonally is difficult, Scott said.
Purchasing the Acushnet would provide the Twin Ports Division with a permanent training location and would provide a location for other Navy Cadet units to train as well. Three boats are in use on other Great Lakes for Navy Cadet training, he said.
After searching for a vessel for six years to purchase, a former Twin Ports Navy Cadet came across the Acushnet a little more than a month ago and passed the information on to Scott.
"As far as the size of the vessel, the specifics of the vessel, after six years, this was the dream vessel we've been looking for, everything and then some that we would require for our training purposes and additional missions we'd use the vessel for," Scott said.
They've spent the past month searching for available grant funding, as well as setting up a Go Fund Me page for donations. The price tag on the vessel is $250,000 and Scott said they estimate it would cost a total of $550,000 to purchase the ship and the needed items for it, such as insurance, and get it to the Twin Ports.
After being decommissioned in 2011, the Acushnet was sold into the private sector. After sitting in the shipyard for several years, the shipyard has been trying to sell it, he said. Scott and other staff are planning to travel to the shipyard in a few weeks for an inspection of the Acushnet.
If purchased, the Acushnet will be sailed from Washington to the Twin Ports via the Panama Canal and St. Lawrence Seaway.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity we've come across and in six years, this is the first time we've found a vessel in (this) quality, this history and this amount of benefit it can increase not only for our unit, but for Duluth and the region," Scott said.
'A living piece of history'
After helping to clear the Pearl Harbor channels, the Acushnet saw action with landings in Okinawa and Iwo Jima during World War II. Once transferred to the Coast Guard, its work continued. It was involved in 27 drug busts and served in the International Ice Patrol as well as New England, the west coast and Alaska.
On Feb. 18, 1952, two ships split into two parts during a storm off of Cape Cod, Mass. The rescue of the SS Pendleton's crew was immortalized in the book and film, "The Finest Hours." The Acushnet was among the vessels who rescued the crew off of the second ship in distress, the SS Fort Mercer.
"We want to honor this ship's history because this is a living piece of history and to preserve that," Scott said.
Touching on the ship's World War II history, the ship can prepare a new generation for the military and their futures, said Lindsey, who visited Duluth while serving with the Coast Guard on the Great Lakes in the 1980s.
"It's a symbolic gesture that this place matters, this piece of history matters, that what went on before with World War II and what went on with the Fort Mercer rescue and the other rescues and later when it went to Alaska to become the fishermen's friend in the Bering Sea -- the Acushnet coming over the horizon in Alaskan waters and some doomed fishing boat taking on water and they couldn't keep up with it and they knew they were done, but when you saw that cutter heading for you, you knew all wasn't lost," Lindsey said. "Preserving that hope, that's really important, to give people hope."