Coast Guard: Wreck found in Atlantic is storied cutter Bear

BOSTON (AP), The Coast Guard announced Thursday that the Coast Guard found the wreck of a storied naval ship that was involved in two World Wars and performed patrols in the waters off Alaska for decades. At one point, it was commanded by the first Black man in command of a U.S. government vessel.
The wreck, believed to be the U.S. Revenue Cutter Bear that sank in 1963, about 260 miles east from Boston, as it was being towed back to Philadelphia. It was to be converted to a floating restaurant.

However, it wasn't until August that an expert team examining the evidence concluded that the wreck was indeed the Bear. Officials from the Coast Guard and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stated at a Boston waterfront news conference that they were reasonably certain the wreck was the Bear.

Joe Hoyt, of National Marine Sanctuaries, stated that the ship was already considered a historic vessel at the time of Bear's loss.

Coast Guard lore is so ingrained with the legend of the Bear that the U.S. Coast Guard Academy sports teams in Connecticut are called the Bears partly to honor the vessel.

Built in 1874, the steam- and sail-powered Bear was bought by the U.S. to participate in the 1884 search for Lt. Adolphus Griely's ill-fated Arctic expedition. Greely is a member U.S Armys Signal Corps.

The Bear, weighing in at 190 feet, spent four decades patrolling Arctic waters, performing search and rescue operations and recording geological and historical information.

In 1915, the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service and the U.S. Life-Saving Service combined to create the Coast Guard.

"Bear's 40-year Alaskan career saw him perform some of the most successful and daring Arctic rescues in history," stated William Thiesen (official historian Coast Guard Atlantic Areas). Bear also brought food to Native Americans who were hungry. Bear was there to save stranded whalers. Bear provided medicine and doctors for thousands of Alaskans who contracted the Spanish Flu during the pandemic one hundred years ago.

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Thursday's announcement was made in conjunction with the arrival of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy to Boston. Healy is named after Michael Hell Roaring Mike Healy, a Bears captain who served from 1886-1895.

The 1999-commissioned icebreaker, the Healy, completed a recent transit of Arctic Northwest Passage.

Healy was born 1839. Healy was the son of a Georgia plantation proprietor and a slave. Thiesen stated that Healy was sent to Massachusetts by his father to escape slavery.

He compared the Healy, which Abraham Lincoln had commissioned a month prior to the assassination of the president, to an Old West sheriff whose jurisdiction was a region the size of the lower 48 US states.

According to a NOAA news release, he was not of African American descent and did not identify himself as such during his life. This may have been to avoid prejudice he might have faced in his professional life.

Bear's career didn't end after his time in the Arctic.

It served in both World Wars. The ship was used to patrol the Greenlands waters during World War II, and also helped capture a German spy boat.

The Bear was used by the city in Oakland, California, as a maritime museum. It was also used as a film set. Adm. Richard Byrd purchased the Bear for his Antarctic expeditions.

According to NOAA, the ship was decommissioned in 1944. It remained in Nova Scotia until it reached Philadelphia in 1963. The trip ended prematurely at Cape Sable, Nova Scotia.

Thiesen stated that Bear had served in many capacities for almost 90 years. This is a remarkable record for a ship built of wood."