Photo of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Jarvis, date unknown. (Courtesy of Jack Hunter/ All Present and Accounted For)

Photo of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Jarvis, date unknown. (Courtesy of Jack Hunter/ All Present and Accounted For)

Of things Jarvis, heroic men and reindeer

Author Steven Craig giving a talk on David Jarvis and the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Jarvis

If you like Alaska adventure stories with heroics that end well the name Jarvis might ring a bell, most recently for a book about the rescue of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter with that name.

The cover of Steven Craig’s book, “All Present and Accounted For,” reflects the 1972 sea story without giving away that the early chapters are about David Henry Jarvis, which is where the ship got its name.

Craig plans to split his talk at the downtown library between the exciting rescue of the cutter and the heroic life of Jarvis. Jarvis is best known for a 1,500-mile rescue expedition to Point Barrow, bringing 382 reindeer as food to 300 men stranded and starving on ice-trapped whaling ships in 1897-1898. The talk is at 2 p.m. on Saturday.

Book cover photo of author Steven Craig used for “All Present and Accounted For.”

Book cover photo of author Steven Craig used for “All Present and Accounted For.”

Craig, who served in the Coast Guard for 38 years, learned about what happened on the cutter shortly after he joined the service in the mid-1970s. “I was in Honolulu and heard about it from a crewman. I was fascinated, because it hadn’t made the headlines.”

“It stuck with me the whole time,” he said.

It wasn’t until 2018 when he retired that he had time to dig in. At first he envisioned a magazine story about the harrowing trip of the cutter Jarvis, but before long he realized he had more than enough for a book.

Craig interviewed 50 people, 35 of them crew, to fill in the picture of how the damaged cutter Jarvis survived, one of the few times the Coast Guard ever put out a mayday call. In the mix is a skin-diving member of the crew who swam repeatedly into caustic engine water to repair the hole, and a Japanese fishing boat, which later came to their rescue, he said.

But the first third of “All Present and Accounted For,” is about Jarvis himself, who joined the Revenue Cutter Service, the precursor to the USCG, in 1881.

This photo of the cutter Jarvis engine room shows about five feet of water, which eventually rose to 13 feet. (Courtesy of Jack Hunter/ All Present and Accounted For)

This photo of the cutter Jarvis engine room shows about five feet of water, which eventually rose to 13 feet. (Courtesy of Jack Hunter/ All Present and Accounted For)

The expedition Jarvis is remembered for was a grueling test of strength, as they traveled for more than three months across ice and frozen terrain to save the stranded men. The expedition included Ellsworth P. Bertholf, who was to become the first commandant of the Coast Guard, along with the hundreds of reindeer, Craig said.

Jarvis and the others purchased dogs and sleds to get across the tundra, and learned quickly that if a dog was released it would depart as fast as it could for home. The sleds traveled over ice at speeds so fast they knew if they fell off they were dead.

But the mission succeeded, most of the men survived, and Jarvis and Bertholf went on to impressive careers.

The Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to Jarvis, Bertholf, and J.S. Call, a U.S. Public Health Service doctor, for the expedition. The Navy League annually presents the David H. Jarvis Inspirational Leadership Award to a USCG officer who has made outstanding contributions.

“All Present and Accounted For” is Craig’s third book. The first is “Chronicles of Katrina,” about his service during the aftermath of the hurricane in New Orleans. The other is a travel book about Italy.

Craig is still deciding what his next book will be about, but is leaning toward a compilation of Alaska rescue stories – including one about Jarvis.

Know & Go

What: Author Talk with Captain Steven J. Craig

Where: Downtown Library, 292 Marine Way

When: Saturday, Sept. 23, 2 p.m.

Cost: There is no charge to attend the one-hour talk. Books will be available for purchase.

• Contact Meredith Jordan at meredith.jordan@juneauempire.com or (907) 615-3190.

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