Discovery of Historic Cutter

          BEAR  (1874-1963)




U.S. Coast Guard Historian's Office
2703 Martin Luther King, Jr., Ave, SE
Washington, DC 20593-7031

U.S. Coast Guard Museum
Coast Guard Academy - Waesche Hall
15 Mohegan Ave
New London, CT 06320-8100

Contacting us:  U.S.C.G. Historian's Office

Through over five decades of US government service, the venerable vessel BEAR was repeatedly summoned to sail through frontiers and change the course of history for those in its wake. After ten years serving as a private sealer, BEAR was purchased by the US Navy to rescue the survivors of the Adolphus Greely Expedition in 1884, and was the first vessel to locate the remainder of the famine-ravaged party. Transferred to the Revenue Cutter Service and under the command of Captain "Hell-Roaring" Mike Healy, BEAR introduced Siberian reindeer to Alaska in 1891 broadening food resources for native hunters. In 1898, BEAR rescued 265 whaling sailors stuck in the ice north of Point Barrow, Alaska, concluding the historically-overshadowed - Overland Relief Expedition. BEAR also served in both World Wars, and sailed as flagship under command of Navy Adm. Richard E. Byrd in multiple expeditions to Antarctica in between.  This widely voyaging vessel even served center stage on the silver screen adaptation of Jack London’s Sea Wolf in 1930. 

During a chilly northern Atlantic week in June 2021 aboard Coast Guard Cutter SYCAMORE, a NOAA team fortified by representatives of the CG Historian's office, concluded the collaborative 42-year search for the iconic Revenue Cutter, Coast Guard Cutter, and Naval vessel BEAR. By 1963, the screw steamer had returned to private hands for nearly two decades and was being prepared for its final mooring on the Philadelphia waterfront. While being towed from Halifax, Nova Scotia, on March 19, however, the tow cable snapped letting loose the vessel in a galing storm, and it soon came to rest somewhere off the New England coast. Images taken from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s ROV PIXEL provided the evidence positively identifying the bottom-resting wreck as the once indomitable BEAR. Lying keel-up, the aged wooden steamer exposed the tell-tale sign of its identity; the unmistakable repair work on its prow. 

As we salute the team who discovered this historic vessel, we also pay homage to the thousands of enlisted and officers that walked it's decks, making the missions and aspirations of a our nation a reality, whether bringing medical aid to pandemic-ravaged populations in remote Alaska, providing succor to victims of the San Francisco Earthquake of 1905, exploring the then-largely unknown southern continent of Antarctica in the 1930s, or rescuing stationed scientific personnel there on the eve of World War, or plying the waters of the Allies' Greenland Patrol. 

To learn more about the modern search for this historic vessel, explore the stories of the Coast Guard’s historic pride, or discover yet untold stories, please visit the links provided below. 

The telegram no parent wanted to receive -- an official telegram from VADM Russell R. Waesche, Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard to the parents of BM1 Albert Kelsch who was reported as "missing in the performance of his duty and in the service of his Country."  He was later declared KIA.  He served on board USS MUSKEGET that was sunk in combat with all hands.
240705-G-G0000-004.JPG Photo By: USCG Historian's Office

Jul 5, 2024
USCG HQ - The telegram every family feared receiving. Sadly, the families of all of the crewmen on board MUSKEGET received such a telegram from the Commandant of the Coast Guard, Vice Admiral Russell Waesche. In it he noted that the USCG would notify her "promptly" when more information received. Unfortunately, no such further notification was with BM1 Kelsch's mother's papers, which were donated to the Coast Guard Historian's Office. It is apparent that it was quite some time before she learned of the official declaration, from the Coast Guard, of her son's death. In an official reply to a request for information that Mrs. Kelsch sent to Coast Guard Headquarters in 1948, the chief of the Military Morale Division of the Coast Guard noted that the "Secretary of the Navy found that his death was presumed to have occurred on 10 September 1943 [sic]. His death was in the line of duty and was not the result of his own misconduct." The officer who wrote the letter enclosed a certified copy of a "Finding of Death in lieu of a death certificate."


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