Station Humboldt Bay: Honoring the past

Story provided by Master Chief Petty Officer Jon Gagnon

Crewmembers of Coast Guard Station Humboldt Bay take part in a ceremony at the station for the presentation of a World War II boatswain's pipe to the officer-in-charge. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Crewmembers of Coast Guard Station Humboldt Bay take part in a ceremony at the station for the presentation of a World War II boatswain’s pipe to the officer-in-charge. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The officer-in-charge of Coast Guard Station Humboldt Bay, Master Chief Petty Officer Jon Gagnon, received a unique piece of Coast Guard history July 25, 2014. A boatswain’s pipe and lanyard from a sailor that went down with the Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba on June 13, 1943 when she was sunk, presumably by a German U-boat, killing all but two of the 103 men aboard. Just how did this prized lanyard end up at Station Humboldt Bay? The story begins sometime prior to the sinking of the Escanaba.

A sailor aboard named Moore (possibly More) made the lanyard either prior to being assigned to the ship or while on the ship, but apparently left it at home prior to setting sail in the North Atlantic. This was the trip in which the ship was sunk.

Fast-forward to 1985, the day Capt. James Loy assumed command of the Coast Guard Cutter Midgett. After the change of command one of the ship’s crew, Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Gregory “Vance” Vaught, went to the local Elks lodge, still in dress uniform. He was approached by an elderly gentleman who asked if he was going to be there for a while. Vance said he was, and the man left, only to return with the lanyard and boatswain’s pipe. He said his wife didn’t want him to do it, but these items weren’t doing any good hanging around his son’s picture for the past 40 years. He presented it to Vaught with the only stipulation that they remain with the Coast Guard.

The World War II pipe was embellished with ornate fancy work (decorative knot tying) that is rare among modern sailors. Vaught was the perfect person to receive the lanyard as he was a self-proclaimed fancy-work expert (so much so he was able to reproduce an exact replica, which he presented to his former shipmate Adm. Loy, when Vaught piped the commandant’s retirement in 2002).

The lanyard and boatswain's pipe from the Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba in 1943 is on display at Coast Guard Station Humboldt Bay. U.S. Coast GUard photo.

The lanyard and boatswain’s pipe from the Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba in 1943 is on display at Coast Guard Station Humboldt Bay. U.S. Coast GUard photo.

In the early 1990s, Vaught served once again on the Cutter Midgett. He had a passion for fancywork and sparked the interest of a young boatswain’s mate on ship, Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Gagnon. Many moons were spent in the forward hold as various knots were tied, including the manropes used by crews being lowered in the small boat.

Rather than just tie a simple knot as others did, a fancy knot designed for manropes was used. The saying to tie this knot is: first a wall, then a crow, first tuck up, then tuck down. Gagnon’s interest in knots must have struck a chord with the boatswain’s mate 1st class.

Vaught has since retired from the Coast Guard and now serves as the Flotilla Commander for Auxiliary Flotilla 04-05 in Bremerton, Washington. In keeping with his promise to the man in the Elks club 29 years ago, Vance presented the boatswain’s pipe and lanyard Gagnon at a ceremony held at Station Humboldt Bay. In attendance was the local Flotilla Commander (Flotilla 08-06), Maggie Herbelin, Lt. Michelle Foster, Sector Humboldt Bay Surface Operations Division Chief, and the crew of Station Humboldt Bay.

Gagnon plans to retire in two years, passing the lanyard and boatswain’s pipe on to a successor and honoring the wishes of a father who paid the ultimate sacrifice in 1943. The artifacts can be viewed at the historic Humboldt Bay Station.

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