Written by Petty Officer 3rd Class George Degener.
The crew of Alder, acting as Chicago’s “Christmas Ship,” loaded more than 750 Christmas trees in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., Nov. 28, and brought them safely down through Lake Michigan. Add to these 750 trees hundreds more that met the ship in Chicago, and more than 1,000 trees will go to deserving Chicago-area families.
“The Christmas tree is a symbol of the holiday season that brings thoughts of family and home,” said Rear Adm. Michael Parks, commander of the 9th Coast Guard District. “The fact that the Coast Guard can be part of bringing that symbol to less fortunate families in the Chicago area is truly heartwarming.”
The Coast Guard has been involved since Chicago re-kindled the Christmas Ship tradition in 2000, the year Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw helped deliver trees to the less fortunate. The crew of Mackinaw has supported every year, but was unable to do so this year, as the ship needed to be taken into dry dock for mechanical repairs.
The Alder’s crew shouldered the “Christmas Ship” responsibilities started by Capt. Herman Schuenemann, master of the three-masted schooner Rouse Simmons, the original “Christmas Tree Ship” that delivered thousands of trees to Chicago families in the early 1900s. Rouse Simmons foundered and sank near Two Rivers, Wis., Nov. 23, 1912, with all 17 souls aboard lost.
Today, Chicago’s Christmas Ship Committee works with the Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary to re-create this noble endeavor. Under the watchful eyes of crewmembers from Alder, Marine Safety Unit Chicago, members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary and local youth volunteers – including Sea Cadets, Sea Scouts and Young Marines – load each tree onto waiting trucks. Chicago’s Ada S. McKinley Community Services selects the tree recipients and then distributes them to families throughout the city.
Alder’s crew transported the trees in conjunction with support of Operation Fall Retrieve, the largest domestic aids-to-navigation operation, and traveled almost the exact same route the Rouse Simmons traveled in the early 1900s.
During the transit south, Lt. Cmdr. Mary-Ellen Durley, Alder’s commanding officer, and Merchant Marine Capt. George Lisner, a member of the Christmas Ship Committee, honored the crew of the Rouse Simmons by dropping a wreath into the water directly over the spot the schooner sank and settled to the bottom of Lake Michigan.
“The trees on Alder’s deck will go to deserving families, some of whom have never had a tree before,” said Durley, “Years from now, the sight and scent of a Christmas tree will evoke warm memories for those kids that received their first tree in 2011.”
The Coast Guard has delivered more than 10,000 trees and brought the classic evergreen symbol of the holiday spirit into thousands of homes that would otherwise be without.
This story originally appeared at Coast Guard Great Lakes.