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The Naval History of Michigan

By Naval History and Heritage Command Communication and Outreach Division

It should come as little surprise that Michigan, bound by four out of the five Great Lakes, and possessing one of the longest freshwater coastlines in the world, has deep ties to naval history.

More than 32 ships are named after Michigan, its cities, places, and people. Three ships have been named for the state, including a guided missile submarine (SSGN 727), battleship (BB 27), and a screw steamer commissioned in 1844.

The state of Michigan is home to many notable Sailors, including Roger Bruce Chaffee, a Grand Rapids native and naval officer who was later selected by NASA to become an astronaut in 1963. While serving as an Apollo I astronaut, Chaffee was killed during a simulated launch at Kennedy Space Center in 1967.

Other notable Michigan Sailors include Ensign Francis Charles Flaherty, a Charlotte native, and Medal of Honor Recipient. During the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Flaherty helped numerous Sailors escape USS Oklahoma (BB37) before it capsized. For his actions, he was awarded the Medal of Honor and the escort ship USS Flaherty (DE 135) was named in his honor.

Perhaps the most famous Sailor with ties to Michigan is former President Gerald R. Ford. The University of Michigan graduate and football player served 47 months of active duty in the U.S. Navy Reserve during World War II, eventually achieving the rank of lieutenant commander. Ford would go on to become the 38th president of the United States.

Check out our infographic below for more information on the Sailors, ships, and places in Michigan.