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When Ellsworth P. Bertholf was court-martialed and dismissed from the Naval Academy for a hazing incident, no one could have predicted his future greatness. But undaunted by his experience at the academy, Bertholf pursued a career in the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service and by 1902 had earned a special Gold Medal of Honor from the U.S. Congress for his role in a dramatic overland relief expedition to Alaska. By 1915 he had bypassed twenty-two officers senior to him to become the first commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard and went on to successfully steer his fledgling service through the trials of World War I. This biography of the man who has been called the savior of the Coast Guard offers a revealing portrait not only of Bertholf but also of the last years of the Revenue Cutter and Life-Saving Services and the early formative years of the Coast Guard.
Written by a former Coast Guard officer, the book chronicles Bertholf's colorful early career with the service when he patrolled the vast reaches of the Pacific, enforced maritime laws regulating the fishing, sealing, and whaling industries, participated in daring rescues, and transported Siberian reindeer from Russia to the starving Inuits. As the only biography of Bertholf ever written, his book makes an important contribution to the history of an armed service that receives little recognition for its contributions to the nation.