It was a fairly routine day at Michigan’s Coast Guard Station Saginaw River – until the telephone rang. It was Thursday afternoon, September 18.
A baby eagle had been spotted in the water by the captain of a sailboat. The bird was in distress. It was wounded and could not get up.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Andy Burns was up river conducting a training exercise when he heard the call over the radio.
Once the Coast Guard crew realized they were rescuing an eagle – their mission took on great significance.
Burns turned around the 45-foot rescue boat and set a course to find and rescue the wounded bird.
“We spotted her swimming along a sea wall,” the petty officer told me. “She was barely moving. She was using her wings to swim in the water.”
The Coast Guard crew watched as the eagle floated to a rocky area where she sat down and stretched out her wings.
“We realized she wasn’t going to be able to get up on her own,” he said. “We needed to do something to help her out.”
But a rescue would pose quite the challenge for the crew. That portion of the river was too shallow. The boat could not maneuver in the waters. And there were also other considerations that had to be made.
First, they had to get permission from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to rescue the bird. Permission was readily granted.
Once that happened, they had to obtain permission to access the property where the bird was stranded. That property is owned by Consumers Power Plant. Not only did they grant permission, the plant dispatched a security guard to help the Coast Guard.
Good Samaritans were not in short supply on that day.
Petty Officer 1st Class Dominic Potter and Petty Officer 3rd Class William Peters were assigned the task – save the eagle. The bird was so exhausted she barely flinched when the men approached. They draped a wool blanket over their feathered friend, picked her up and carried her to a nearby truck.
And once the Coast Guard crew realized they were rescuing an eagle – their mission took on great significance.
“We realized it wasn’t just another injured animal,” Burns said. “This was a symbol of our nation’s freedom. We just had to do something to help that bird. We couldn’t just let it lay there and suffer.”
“She’s just majestic,” Burns said. “You can see why the eagle is our nation’s symbol of freedom. They’re just so big and beautiful and powerful.”
The bird, only six months old, had an impressive six-foot wing span.
Burns said Petty Officer Peters held the giant eagle inside the truck until they reached the DNR office. “It’s definitely not something we ever expected to do,” Burns said of the rescue. “But it was really cool. We’re happy we could help her.”
They decided to name her “America.”
“America deserved to be saved,” he told me. “And we’re excited that we got to be a part of that – to help her, to protect her.”
The eagle was turned over to the DNR and at last report – America is on the rebound and is expected to make a full recovery.
“I’ve been in the Coast Guard for almost 11 years and this is the first eagle we’ve ever rescued,” Burns told me.
And that, kind readers, is how the Coast Guard saved America.