The Armistice Day storm of 1940 and the mighty Pentwater heroes

November 13, 2012

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A blog by Lois Scott

As I stepped out on my porch on Nov. 11, I noticed the temperature gage registered a warmer 65 degrees. Had it not been for the wind blowing through the bare limbed trees, I would have found it hard to believe that this was Nov. 11. As so often happens at my age, certain things trigger long lost memories and I remembered another Armistice Day 72 years ago, in 1940, as if it were yesterday.

That evening, I was laying in my bed with a flashlight under the covers, reading a comic book, when I heard the phone ring. Usually the phone ringing at night meant only one thing, there was a fire somewhere.

My father was Pentwater’s only electrician and had to turn off the electricity before the firemen could enter the building. They elected him fire chief because he was the first to be alerted after a call.

I could hear him swearing as he dressed. My father was not a silent swearer. A few minutes later, the fire siren blasted the stillness of the night. I could tell by the number of times it blew that there was a real big fire or some other serious disaster, like the world coming to an end or something.

I snuggled deeper beneath the covers to wait for my personal demise. My father didn’t return until early morning and we learned that a ship, the Novadoc, had been pushed aground by the high winds just off the shore from Little Sable Lighthouse. It had broken into two.

Although it was only 700 feet off shore, the Coast Guard had refused to go to its aid because of the severity of the storm. During the day, hundreds of people lined the shore, watching as they saw sailors waving from the ship.

Several men gathered at the local bar to discuss the tragedy and bemoan the Coast Guard’s lack of action. After 36 hours of waiting, three of my father’s friends — after bolstering their courage with more than a few beers — took it upon themselves to right the situation.

Clyde Cross, owner of the a small fishing boat, “The Three Brothers,” Corky Fisher and Joe Fountain took matters into their own hands and in spite of 75 mph winds and high waves, steered the little boat alongside the faltering ship and rescued 17 crew members.
Two men had perished as they were washed overboard during the night.

Our little town had genuine heroes. I shared in their glory as a I babysat for Clyde Cross’ children often and Corky Fisher was our neighbor. An additional plus was that my own father had learned about it first after the call came from the lighthouse.

A little later, we learned that two other ships had sunk about 1.9 miles off Little Sable Point. The William B. Davock and the Anna C. Minch lay in about 210 feet of water. All had perished, 55 men lost their lives in the icy water of Lake Michigan that night. The next day, snow accompanied the high winds, complicating any search for survivors. When weather permitted, my father was one of the many who walked the beaches looking for and picking up bodies.

Some were not discovered for weeks and his description of their condition tainted my love for swimming in Lake Michigan to this day.

Tragic as it was to a little 10-year-old girl, the memory had disappeared from my mind until the sound of the howling wind Sunday brought it back to the surface. The wind has blown many times over the past 72 years and I haven’t even thought of the sunken three ships and loss of life. Why now, I wonder.

 

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