Captain Michael A. Healy was born near Macon, Georgia in 1839. He was the fifth of ten children born to Michael Morris Healy, an Irish plantation owner, and his wife Mary Elisa Smith, a former slave. This family produced a number of distinguished individuals. Three brothers entered the priesthood; James became the first black bishop in North America, Patrick was president of Georgetown University, and Sherwood became an expert in canon law. Three sisters became nuns, one reaching the level of mother superior.
When his siblings became bishops, priests and nuns, it may have been to compensate for the man who became known as "Hell Roaring Mike".
Michael Healy was uninterested in academic pursuits and so began a seagoing career as a cabin boy aboard the American East Indian Clipper JUMNA in 1854. He quickly became an expert seaman and rose to the rank of officer on merchant vessels.
In 1864 he applied for a commission in the U.S. Revenue Marine and was accepted as a Third Lieutenant. After serving successfully on several cutters in the East, Healy began his lengthy service in Alaskan waters in 1875 as the second officer on the cutter RUSH.
He was given command of the revenue cutter CHANDLER in 1877. Promoted to Captain in March 1883, he was given command of the cutter THOMAS CORWIN in 1884.
Finally in 1886, he became Commanding Officer of the cutter BEAR, taking her into Alaskan waters for the first time. Here he remained until 1895.
Although already held in high regard as a seaman and navigator in the waters of Alaska, it was as Commanding Officer of BEAR that Healy truly made his mark in history. During the last two decades of the 19th Century, Captain Healy was the United States Government in most of Alaska. In his twenty years of service between San Francisco and Point Barrow, he acted as: judge, doctor, and policemen to Alaskan natives, merchant seamen and whaling crews.
He operated in an eerie echo of what would become the mission of his Coast Guard successors a century later: protecting the natural resources of the region, suppressing illegal trade, resupply of remote outposts, enforcement of the law, and search and rescue. Even in the early days of Arctic operations, science was an important part of the mission. Renowned naturalist John Muir made a number of voyages with Healy during the 1880's as part of an ambitious scientific program. With the reduction in the seal and whale populations, he introduced reindeer from Siberia to Alaska to provide food, clothing and other necessities for the native peoples.
The primary instrument in Healy's capable hands, to accomplish all of this, was the cutter BEAR, probably the most famous ship in the history of the Coast Guard. Under "Hell Roaring Mike", BEAR became legendary as "Healy's Fire Canoe". Healy and BEAR proved to be a perfect match, a marriage of vessel capability and unrivaled ice seamanship that became legend.
The USCGC HEALY (WAGB 20) carries on the legacy of her namesake, providing a highly dedicated scientific platform with the search and rescue, and resupply services which have become the hallmark of the United States' icebreaking fleet for over 100 years.
USCGC HEALY (WAGB 20) was constructed by Avondale Industries in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her keel was laid on September 16, 1996. A spectacular launch followed on November 15, 1997. Delivered to the U.S. Coast Guard and placed "In Commission, Special" on November 10, 1999, HEALY joined the icebreakers POLAR STAR (WAGB 10) and POLAR SEA (WAGB 11) in their homeport of Seattle, Washington. The ship departed New Orleans on January 26th, 2000, arrived in Seattle on August 9th, 2000 and was placed "In Commission, Active" on August 21st, 2000.