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U.S. Coast Guard Awards

Earl Cunningham

Awarded 28 April 1936

Around 2:30 PM on 8 February 1936, the surfman on lookout duty at US Coast Guard Station, Charlevoix (MI) reported that a strip of ice about three miles long had broken away from shore. Upon this floating ice were five fishermen. A complement of Coast Guardsmen proceeded with a skiff which had runners attached to a point where it could be launched from the ice banks. Then MOMM1 Quentin R. Duhm set out to the rescue. He reached the ice floe and took three fishermen into the skiff and returned with them to solid ice.

BM2 Earl Cunningham (deceased) then proceeded with the skiff to rescue the other two fishermen. By this time the floe had moved farther away from shore with the wind. This made the second trip far more dangerous. Cunningham succeeded in getting the two fishermen into the skiff, but he was unable to make any headway due to the increased wind and sea.

A 19-foot dinghy, which was much heavier than the skiff, was finally launched but the men in charge, BM1 George Kelderhouse, MOMM1 Duhm, and Surfman William P. Woods, were unable on account of the severe snowstorm and sub-zero weather to reach the skiff. When they returned to land early the next morning, Wood’s feet were badly frozen. Although all the men were in frozen condition, an effort was made to launch the power lifeboat, but before doing so the channel had to be blasted with dynamite. The boat was at last launched and another unsuccessful effort was made to locate the skiff. When the crew was completely exhausted, they returned to land about 6:00 PM on 9 February.

On 10 February, around 4:30 PM, one of the two remaining fishermen on the lee floe managed to get ashore at Goodheart, MI following which a third unsuccessful effort was made to rescue Cunningham and the other fisherman. Around 12:30 on 12 February, both men were found, after first having located them by plane, frozen to death. They were frozen solid. Cunningham’s body was in the position of one who was still attempting to handle the boat.

The rescue of the first three fishermen by Duhm and the attempted rescue of the remaining fishermen were heroic in every respect. Kelderhouse, Duhm, and Woods suffered untold hardships in a blinding snowstorm and below freezing weather.

Last Modified 1/12/2016