‘Bear’: Wreck of legendary Coast Guard vessel identified six decades later

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The search for a historic ship spanning nearly half a century ended with the discovery of its final resting place, putting an end to the mystery of the fate of one of the most important ships in American history .

Known as the US Revenue Cutter (USRC) Bear, the ship has been missing since 1963. But before its disappearance, it had known almost eight decades of use, while being a wooden ship.

Built in 1874 in Scotland, Bear was originally intended to be a seal hunter and served in that capacity for 10 years before being purchased by the United States. The reason for this purchase was an emergency. In 1881, US Army Lt. Adolphus Greely led an expedition to Ellesmere Island in northern Greenland to study the weather, but they found themselves stranded. Two years of rescue efforts had previously failed, but finally, in 1884, Bear was sent for work and managed to save Greely and other members of the expedition, and established himself around the world.

For the next 41 years, Bear continued to embark on Arctic rescue missions. But most remarkable was the fact that between 1886 and 1895, Bear was commanded by “Hell Roaring” Mike Healy, the most famous captain in US Coast Guard history who, being the son of a plantation slave, was the first African American to command a US government ship – although because his father owned a plantation, he appeared white and never disclosed his inheritance.

Bear made numerous rescue efforts during this tenure, including the 1897 Land Rescue, one of the largest rescue missions in Coast Guard history.

The USS Bear is seen in 1944 (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

“While BearWith a 40-year career in Alaska, the cutter has carried out some of the most daring and successful Arctic rescues in history, ”said William Thiesen, official historian of the Atlantic Coast Guard, at a conference Press, CBS News reported. “And when malnourished Native Americans needed food, Bear brought it. When stranded whalers needed to be rescued, Bear saved them. One hundred years ago, when thousands of Alaskans contracted the Spanish flu during the pandemic, Bear brought doctors and drugs.

But the ship soon found itself embroiled in the fray of the Spanish-American War and later World War I.

Bear was then decommissioned in 1929, becoming a maritime museum in Oakland, and then served two major Antarctic expeditions.

But after that, World War II started, and Bear once again sailed into the fray. The ship served in the Greenland Patrol, and it was here that it had arguably its most famous moment: playing a role in the capture of Buskoe, a Norwegian ship used by the Nazis to provide secret German weather stations and send weather reports to the Nazis, making it one of the first Axis ships seized by the United States during WWII, even if the United States were still two months away from joining the war.

This mandate made Bear the only American ship to have served in the Spanish-American War as well as in the two world wars, but it was also the last time it was in service. The ship’s owners changed hands and it ended up alone on a Nova Scotia dock before a Philadelphia businessman bought it, intending to convert it into a museum and restaurant in Waterside.

Unfortunately, this new job was a Bear would never manage to accomplish. On the way to Philadelphia, Bear was lost at sea, sinking some 90 miles south of Cape Sable, Nova Scotia.

For decades people had been looking for this historic ship. For years, none of these research efforts were successful.

But that changed in 2019, when an unidentified wreckage was discovered in the area. Two years later, the Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) set to work investigating the wreckage. And it was with this investigation that they became “reasonably certain” that Bear had finally been found.

The discovery of this ship finally puts an end to the history of such a historic ship. More than 60 years after his passing, his legacy is never forgotten and he remains honored by the Coast Guard to this day.


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