Michigan man preserves tugboat used in D-Day invasion

The Ludington will open for tours this summer

(WBAY) – A piece of World War II history floating in Kewaunee’s harbor will soon open for tours again this summer.

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And one Michigan man’s love for the tugboat Ludington is keeping its story alive.

Pat Brandon considers the water his home. “That’s when I feel the best, because there’s nothing around to bother you,” says Brandon.

Born in Ludington, Michigan, he started working on the Lake Michigan car ferries in the early 1970s.

For years, Kewaunee was one of his ports of call.

In 2009, while visiting Kewaunee, Brandon, who was then helping restore the SS City of Milwaukee car ferry, took a tour of the tugboat Ludington.

“I was looking around, I thought well it could be cleaner and better painted, and I asked the tour guide, I said, ‘Do you need volunteer help?’ and she said, ‘Well, someone is supposed to power wash.’ And I said, ‘Well, from the ship I’m working on there’s always someone supposed to do something,’ so I had her give me her boss’s number so I could volunteer to come and work on the tug,” says Brandon.

Offer accepted.

“He’s a boat rat, really. He loves boats. There are so very, very few people that have the time or the energy or the inclination to spend their free time helping preserve something,” says Kewaunee Alderman John Griffith, who overseas the tugboat tours.

For the past six years Brandon has traveled from Michigan twice a year.

“This is my spring vacation, and then when I come in August that’s my summer vacation.”

There’s always plenty of work on the old tug.

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“Chip and paint and wash the boat down and fix broken doors and broken railings and whatever I see that needs done. They just shed paint like dandruff and you just gotta keep painting them. What I’m doing this week is working on the boat deck up here and getting that cleaned off so I can put a coat of paint on it. Hope the flies kind of die off, but they might work like non-skid too,” jokes Brandon.

While he doesn’t accept a penny for his work, Brandon does enjoy one special benefit.

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“That’s what I like to do is stay on the boat and pretend I’m a sailor again,” says Brandon, who sleeps in the captain’s quarters.

The Ludington‘s history fascinates Brandon.

“Well when there’s no tour guides and there’s people hanging around the park looking wistful, I do tours,” says Brandon.

And he share’s the tug’s story, how it was instrumental in the D-Day invasion, towing equipment and ammunition to the U.S. troops at Normandy, and how after the war it was stationed in Kewaunee and used on the Great Lakes by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Those tied to the tug’s history credit Brandon for keeping their story alive.

“It’s just funding, it’s limited and very fortunate to have him come over and do painting and stuff and keep it appealing, you can’t just have some relic out there,” says retired captain Herman Draeger.

“People say to me, if you’re gonna retire, you gotta find something to do or you’re gonna get old and die. I said I have three ships to work on, I don’t have time to get old,” says Brandon.

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