Coast Guard festival to recognize importance of service, safety on lakes

Courtesy Photo /
Coast Guard Festival in Grand Haven

Courtesy Photo / Coast Guard Festival in Grand Haven

Elijah Brumback

Most people have some of idea of what the Coast Guard represents and does, but few actually realize the broad load of active mission they attend to daily; not to mention the idea that they consistently face a foe that has no conscience or mercy. Mother nature as an enemy is without a doubt unpredictable and certainly unforgiving. The Coast Guard knows this better than any and for this reason we celebrate their extreme understanding of the elements and the lives they save with that knowledge.

West Michigan has faithfully honored the Coast Guard since 1942, and throughout time the Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival has grown into an immense occasion. Given the vast multitude of resources and the out-of-doors culture of the region, it is no wonder that thousands travel from far out of state to witness the pristine waters and enjoy a community unlike many others.

“I think a lot of people only know the Coast Guard from what they’ve seen on television and in the movies,” said loyal festival attendee Kevin Anderson. “But jumping out of helicopters and rescuing people, while being a pretty important part of what they do, it doesn’t always make up the majority of their responsibilities. They protect far more than just the lost and stranded.”

Anderson is also a member of the Grand Rapids Yacht Club, so he is familiar with boat and water safety to an extent. He made sure to mention though that no one could hold a candle to the abilities for which the Coast Guards trains so rigorously.

“Knowing that someone is out there to keep us all safe and help us in a moment’s notice if we run into danger makes it so much easier to enjoy being out on the lake,” Anderson said.

Commander Mike Smith, the festival’s executive director, said the event has become much more of a community celebration and though honoring the Coast Guard is the focus, the city, lake and people have made the festival into what it is today.

Grand Valley State University’s president Thomas Haas was once a member of the Coast Guard and it would appear that the same commitment to preserving natural resources has carried over as he continues to helm the university, with notable success in GVSU’s green operations.

In its mission, the festival seeks to honor the service, achievements and duty of men and women such as Haas, who have pledged their careers to making strides toward better communities and those who risk their own lives to save others in desperate times.

“It takes a certain type of person to take up with the Coast Guard,” Smith said. “The ‘always ready’ mentality will stay with you forever.”

The festival will run from July 30 to Aug. 8 and a variety of events will take place each day culminating in a grand show of fireworks. Other notable events include the Grand Parade, drive-in car show and a series of musical performances.

Grand Haven plays host to one of the largest Coast Guard ports in the region. For the occasion a few vessels will be on hand and will extend invitations to regale the general public with tours of these ships.

For many years the citizens of the United States have heralded their veterans’ bravery and courage upon their return with adoration and thanks, and still the form has not changed. Though the Coast Guard is not a weapons combative force and their enemies are not often men, the risk and danger are unaltered as they battle the elements.

Retired guardsman and now Arizona resident, James Johnson, and his wife have been returning to the festival for several years. Johnson said he gets a little too dried out living in the desert and has to come back every year to dip his feet in the water.

“The festival is a tradition to us, probably for a lot of people,” Johnson said. “I’m surprised by how many people keep coming to the festival, but there’s a real draw to this area that sucks people in to the landscape.”

Johnson is only one among many retired guardsmen who continue to visit the festival each year. He said the celebration always makes him feel his service is respected and appreciated and that he wouldn’t want the festival to ever change its truly American traditions.

For a complete list of events visit

[email protected]