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Interview of Bernard G. Koether by Brian Shoemaker

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Title: Interview of Bernard G. Koether by Brian Shoemaker
Creators: Koether, Bernard G.
Contributors: Shoemaker, Brian
Issue Date: 2009-07-06
Publisher: Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program
Series/Report no.: Polar Oral History Program
Abstract: Mr. Bernard G. Koether (Ben) has a very unique polar background. He grew up in City Island, New York and spent much of his formative years as a teenager and college student involved with sailing ships. In the summer of 1953 Ben landed a job on the Vema, a 220-foot topsail schooner to Northern Labrador as far north as Belle Isle. After graduating from Brown University in June 1959, he was commissioned an Ensign in the US Navy and was assigned to the USS Glacier for duty. He made two cruises to Antarctica aboard the Glacier the first in the 1959-60 Antarctic summer season and the second during the 1960-61 summer season. Shortly afterward Ben resigned his commission and left the navy to begin a career in business. He recently retired and assumed the duties as President of the Glacier Society, an organization dedicated to preserving the USS Glacier and bringing her back on-line as a National Heirloom for the United States. The following is pertinent: 1. As a young man living in City Island New York, Ben was exposed to books on polar exploration and more importantly to sailing ships. a. The Atlantic, a three-masted sailing schooner that held the sailing speed record across the Atlantic Ocean was tied up at City Island. b. The Vema, a 220-foot topsail schooner was also there. It was built by Barbara Hutton and was used by the U.S. Navy as a picket ship in Greenland waters during WWII. The owner of the Vema was Lou Kennedy, who had formerly owned the Bear (formerly the USCGC Bear of Arctic and Antarctic fame). c. Kennedy’s father was a friend of the Koether family – Ben parlayed this connection into a summer job aboard the Vema in the summer of 1953. Lamont-Doherty Geophysical Institute had chartered the Vema for oceanographic research. Dr. Bruce Heezen and Dr. Maurice Ewing were aboard as Principal Investigators for the cruise, leading a team of 26 scientists. This was a critical point in young Ben’s life – the Vema sailed up the Arctic Coast of Labrador conducting scientific observations, the scientists and their work impressed him and, most importantly Heezen and Ewing convinced him that he must attend college – they appeared to be his mentors. 2. After graduating from Brown University in 1959 - where he was also enrolled in the Naval ROTC program – Ben was commissioned an Ensign in the United States Navy. a. In June of 1959 Captain P.W. Porter, who shortly afterward became the Commanding Officer, detailed him to the icebreaker USS Glacier. b. Ben reported to the Glacier in mid-June of 1959. (In 2002, during the interview, Ben stated that this was “The most significant event of my life!” He did not realize this at the time!!) c. The Glacier cruised to Antarctica in company with the USS Atka, another icebreaker, during the 1959-60 season in Antarctica. The chief scientist aboard was Mr. Philip Smith of the National Science Foundation. He describes life aboard ship and the work that was done. He also notes that the Glacier was used to evacuate the last personnel from Little America V and decommission the base. d. The following summer of 1960-61 Glacier sailed in company with the icebreaker USS Burton Island to Antarctica. Ben covers the event of him being selected as ships navigator even though he was one of the most junior officers on the ship – no doubt because of his experience on the Vema and other sailing ships. He also relates the event whereby the two icebreakers sailed into the Bellinghausen Sea in clear weather and ice-free waters – a true voyage of exploration. Once there the ships were beset by the sea-ice when the wind shifted and appeared to be frozen-in for the winter. The crews were in extremis because they did not have enough food or fuel for the winter. Ben had to get them out as navigator and went below and prayed to God for favorable winds for three days – his prayers were answered when the wind came up from the south at 125 knots and cleared the ice pack. He still believes that God answered his prayers and that angels were looking out for him. He describes the trip back to Boston via the Antarctic Peninsula, rescuing the Krista Dan and bringing Sir Vivian Fuchs back to Stanley, Falkland Islands. He relates the story of crossing the Drake Passage in a storm and the ship taking a 68-degree roll and captain Porter being injured. He resigned his commission after this cruise and entered the business world. 3. In August 1999, Ben attended a USS/USCGC Glacier reunion and wound up as the President of the Glacier Society - he has dedicated himself to acquiring the ship from the United States Government and returning her to operational status as a National Heirloom. Thus far, under his leadership, they have obtained the rights to the vessel, which currently is anchored in Suisun Bay, California. Plans call for the vessel to be moved from Suisun Bay to the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in November 2002 where it will undergo a refit under the loving care of the former crewman from the ship.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1811/37678
Other Identifiers: Record Group Number:56.124
Rights: Restrictions: This item is not restricted.
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