Clifford L. Bekkedahl, Career Naval Officer

Dec. 11, 1930 - March 26, 2017
Clifford L. Bekkedahl, Dec. 11, 1930 - March 26, 2017

Capt. Clifford Lewis Bekkedahl, a retired naval officer, Arctic explorer, and editor of The Polar Times, died of congestive heart failure at his New York City residence on Sunday, with his family by his side. He was 86 and had been in declining health for the last few years.

Captain Bekkedahl’s first naval post, a month before graduating from Miami University, where he was in the Reserve Officers Training Corps, was as a lieutenant junior grade and navigator on the U.S.S. Arneb, a deep-draft, amphibious cargo assault ship assigned to Operation Deep Freeze I in Antarctica in the mid-1950s. After leaving New Zealand for Antarctica, the ship’s commander, Capt. Lawrence Smythe, summoned the junior officers to say he had become blind. None had had more than six weeks’ experience in a polar region, but they rose to the occasion and were able to complete the exploratory mission, crossing both the Antarctic and Arctic Circles within a year. Capt. Bekkedahl was commissioned as a lieutenant at the conclusion of the operation.

  At different times during his naval career, Capt. Bekkedahl was in command of three ships and a destroyer squadron, and had posts at the Pentagon and the Naval Academy in Annapolis. He also had worked with Japanese and Korean naval officers. He retired in 1979 after 26 years of service.

Clifford Lewis Bekkedahl was born on Dec. 11, 1930, in Cleveland, the older of two sons of Donovan Bekkedahl and the former Mildred Halsall. He grew up in Kirtland, Ohio, and graduated from Collinwood High School in 1949. He worked his way through Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, graduating in 1953 and later earned a master’s degree in international relations at the American University School of International Service in Washington, D.C. As a naval officer, he also had a certificate from the National War College.

Capt. Bekkedahl and the former Victoria Becce, whom he had known in Ohio and who survives, were married in Brooklyn in 1957. Their daughters, all of whom survive, are Barbara Bekkedahl and Carolyn Bekkedahl of New York City, Alison Bekkedahl Gallart of Maplewood, N.J., and MaryAnn Bekkedahl-Parent of Pelham, N.Y. A brother, Doug Bekkedahl of San Diego, and eight grandchildren also survive him.

After retiring from active duty, Capt. Bekkedahl joined ABB Lummus Global, a power and automation technology firm. He later became the editor in chief of The Polar Times, the magazine of the American Polar Society. As a boy, Captain Bekkedahl had been inspired by the 15-minute radio show “Don Winslow of the Navy” and by the career of Admiral Richard E. Byrd, his family said. He was a passionate seaman, officer, and an inspiration to many in the Navy, they said, but was proudest of the children he and his wife reared and the grandchildren who gave him joy until the end of his life.

Captain and Mrs. Bekkedahl, who were married for 60 years, moved to the East End about 15 years ago, living on Manor Lane South in Springs until a month ago, when he moved back to New York. He was a member of the  Kiwanis Club, Habitat for Humanity, and the East Hampton Trails Preservation Society. He also was an enthusiastic gardener, biker, woodworker, and a cook who enjoyed inventing recipes. He read fiction and often wrote about his travels.

Ms. Bekkedahl-Parent said her father was working before he died on a book about his time on the U.S.S. Arneb. It may be completed by a nephew, she said, and eventually published.

The family will receive visitors to a celebration of Captain Bekkedahl’s life on Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Yardley and Pino Funeral Home in East Hampton. A funeral and burial will take place later this year at Arlington National Cemetery.