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Coast Guard Cutter Continues “Christmas Ship” Tradition

’Tis the season for deserving families in the Chicago, Ill., area, who will now have a Christmas tree thanks to crewmembers of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Alder.

The Alder served as this year’s Christmas Tree Ship, transporting more than 750 Christmas trees to Chicago’s famous Navy Pier on Dec. 6. There, hundreds more trees were combined so that approximately 1,000 trees were provided to less-fortunate families.

“The trees on Alder’s deck will go to deserving families, some of whom have never had a tree before,” said Cmdr. Mary-Ellen Durley, Alder’s commanding officer. The cutter is homeported in Duluth, Minn., a unit location within Coast Guard District 9.

U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Mary-Ellen Durley (right), commanding officer of Coast Guard Cutter Alder, and Merchant Marine Capt. George Lisner, a member of the Chicago Christmas Ship committee, throw a wreath over the starboard side on Nov. 30, 2011, while passing over the site in Lake Michigan where the Rouse Simmons, Chicago’s original Christmas Ship, sank in 1912. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class George Degener

On Nov. 28, the trees, which come from various growers in the Cheboygan, Mich., area, were loaded in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., and made the journey aboard the cutter southward through Lake Michigan to its moor in Chicago.

Chicago’s Christmas Ship is a charitable activity administered by an all-volunteer committee comprised of leaders of the Coast Guard, Coast Guard Auxiliary, and Chicago recreational, professional, and military maritime community under the auspices of the Chicago Council of the Navy League of the United States.

The Coast Guard has been involved since the Chicago Christmas Ship committee renewed the Christmas Ship tradition in 2000, the first year the service’s Cutter Mackinaw helped deliver trees to the less fortunate. The Mackinaw‘s crew has supported the effort every year, but was unable to do so this year because the ship is in dry dock for mechanical repairs.

“The Christmas tree is a symbol of the holiday season that brings thoughts of family and home,” said Rear Adm. Michael N. Parks, commander of the 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 Christmas Tree Ship tradition was begun more than 100 years ago by Capt. Herman Schuenemann, skipper of the three-masted schooner Rouse Simmons. He and his crew delivered thousands of trees to Chicago families in the early 1900s. On Nov. 23, 1912, fully loaded with 10,000 trees, the crew encountered a brutal storm, foundered, and sank near Two Rivers, Wis. Seventeen crewmembers were lost.

During the transit south, Durley and Merchant Marine Capt. George Lisner, a member of the Christmas Ship committee, honored the crew of the Rouse Simmons by tossing a wreath into the water over the spot the schooner sank and settled on the bottom of Lake Michigan.

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 schooner traveled decades ago.

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.

“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,” said Durley.