Commodore Scrappy of the U.S. Navy

Nothing New By Roy Vataja

Eighty-five years ago, the USS Constitution — in tow of the mine-sweeper USS Grebe — made a tour of 90 ports along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the United States as a ‘thank-you” to the thousands who had donated to pay for her restoration. The tour began at Portsmouth, New Hampshire on July 2, 1931, and ran down the east and south coasts, through the Panama Canal, and up the west coast to Bellingham. The ship crossed the Grays Harbor bar on the rainy, gray morning of May 16, 1933, greeted by fishing boats and the blast of mill whistles. At 8:30 she warped her way in and, along with the Grebe, docked at the Port of Grays Harbor with a combined complement of 175 seamen who for the next 10 days would be the toast of the Harbor.

In build-up to the visit, the Grays Harbor Naval Reserve had prepared a gift for Old Ironsides in the form of a black bear cub named “Commodore Scrappy.” The story of his antics were documented by Ed Van Syckle in the pages of the Aberdeen World.

IRONSIDE SKIPPER LOGS HARBOR CUB AS SAILOR IN SHOWER OF RED TAPE — Commodore Scrappy, four-month old black cub bear, full of fight and comic antics, ambled out of the woods and into the ponderous wheels of government officialdom. And, strangely, he has the wheels turning.

The “Commodore” for two weeks has, via code messages, and much official correspondence, been attempting officially to board Old Ironsides as a present from the Grays Harbor naval reserve. First the White House was approached in a long telegram. The White House turned the matter over to the navy department for recommendation, which in turn queried Commander Louis J. Gulliver in a coded wireless message.

Commander Gulliver answered in code that he would recommend acceptance and make preparations to return Commodore Scrappy to the donors in that it was inadvisable to keep the cub aboard the Constitution. The navy department wired to proceed, with the proceeding under the commander’s stipulations. And now the White House wires that “it doesn’t see why it should be concerned about a cub bear.”

And so, come 5 o’clock this afternoon Commodore Scrappy for a brief period will change owners just for the time between a presentation address by Lieutenant Robert Ingram of the naval reserve and an acceptance speech by Commander Gulliver. He will be logged as a navy man and returned, that is, providing he doesn’t get one of his streaks and make a break for the mizzen royal yard.

Commodore Scrappy has all the waddle of a dyed-in-the-wool mariner, an amazing curiosity a yen to be going places. He squalls for his chow and makes a bee-line for the galley whenever a ship is in hailing distance. He likes crowds and can eat a pound of sugar without batting an eye. And he’s going to feel terribly hurt about this Old Ironsides business.

There is, too, a story behind Commodore Scrappy’s presentation to the navy. Years ago (1908) when Theodore Roosevelt sent the great White Squadron to the Pacific, Grays Harbor along with the other localities presented gifts. Grays Harbor’s was 14 cub bears (one for each battleship), one at least staying with the fleet for close to 15 years. Old Ironsides is the first regular naval vessel to visit Grays Harbor in the administration of another Roosevelt. Hence the cub bear.

And if Commodore Scrappy doesn’t get a “swig” of milk or some candy out of all the fuss today, there’s going to be a mad bear cub on Grays Harbor. — Aberdeen World, May 24, 1933

BEAR CUB RILED AT CEREMONY; LOTS OF FUSS, NOTHING TO EAT — Commodore Scrappy Disgusted At Navy Introduction, Stalks Off Frigate In Heroic Huff — Commodore Scrappy didn’t like the party. There was far too much fuss and fiddling around and, besides, he was late.

Fully a half-hour after the scheduled time, the Commodore swaggered up the Old Ironsides gang plank, did a couple of loops and a barrel roll on deck, snapped at a lieutenant’s shin, hitched up his pants and demanded to know what all the row was about.

The word was passed along. The quartermaster told the boson, “the bear.” The boson told the messenger; thence to the officer of the deck, the skipper’s orderly, and finally it came to Commander Louis J. Gulliver’s ear. He said, “Oh, the bear.” A few formalities followed a presentation speech by Lieutenant Robert M. Ingram of the Grays Harbor naval reserve and acceptance by Commander Gulliver. The Commodore in the meantime attempted to chin himself on a line held by red-headed Peter Clark and Edith Hendrickson, a tiny blonde from Hoquiam. Photographer (Bliss B.) Jones, too, was having his troubles with a “Peek-a-boo” box. Commodore Scrappy wouldn’t pose.

Then someone got the idea of introducing the Commodore to a small black dog, one Scottie, belonging to one of the Constitution’s officers. The dog came jogging down the deck and into the Commodore’s bailiwick. The Commodore sidled, hedged, retreated and did a few backwards handsprings for cover, but Mr. Scottie kept asking for trouble. Getting fed up with the proceedings, Commodore Scrappy made a vicious sound and slapped the “purp” on the nose. Mr. Scottie sat back on his haunches and went into a complete funk, retiring under the main fife rail. The Commodore brushed his paws, took another hitch in his pants and did a hand-over-hand “shinny” up a backstay.

The Commodore was getting sore. All this hubbub and nothing to eat. So somewhat in a huff Commodore Scrappy bounced down the gangplank, did a couple of derisive flips and stalked off over the dock. As far as he was concerned the navy could go sink. — Aberdeen World, May 25, 1933

By the time the Constitution left port (sans Commodore Scrappy) on May 26, no less than 60,000 people had toured her. A sizable crowd watched from shore as the ropes were cast off and she was bid adieu. Among those not dockside, Commodore Scrappy who no doubt had had his fill of celebrity and was happy enough to be on dry land.

Roy Vataja is the son of Finnish immigrants and visited Boston and the Constitution 33 years ago this summer, fully unaware that 55 years earlier the historic vessel had plied the waters of Grays Harbor.