Bertholf: Continuing a legacy of Coast Guard Arctic service
Written by Petty Officer 1st Class Timothy Tamargo. Excerpts from Commodore Ellsworth P.Bertholf by C. Douglas Kroll and The Overland Expedition: A Coast Guard Triumph by Paul Johnson.
On Aug. 21, 2012, the engines were lit and mooring stations set. There was a cool breeze blowing, but with the warm sun it was easy to forget the ship was moored at Base Kodiak, Alaska. Ship stores were loaded earlier in the day along with fuel and all personnel on the sailing list were accounted for. Once underway, all that was left to do was recover the small boat on the starboard side, land the MH-65 Dolphin helicopter, with its crew from Air Station Los Angeles, and prepare the Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf to deploy to sea to a destination that no cutter of this class had gone before – the Arctic Ocean.
However, the name Bertholf is not new to the Arctic region, nor is the Coast Guard. Almost 115 years ago, a group of men set out on a mission to save approximately 265 sailors who were icebound in the Arctic Ocean aboard eight whaling ships just off of Point Barrow, Alaska. These men were part of the Revenue Cutter Service, the precursor to the present day Coast Guard, and among them was 2nd Lt. Ellsworth P. Bertholf, later Commandant of the Coast Guard, who were tasked to lead an expedition to rescue the mariners in distress by Treasury Secretary Lyman J. Gage by order of President William McKinley. In command of the overland expedition was 1st Lt. David H. Jarvis with Bertholf as his second in command. The third member of the Cutter Bear’s landing party was Dr. S. J. Call, a familiar figure on Revenue Cutters in Alaska. Call was a ship’s physician whose medical skill would be needed by any survivors at Point Barrow.