Denfeld News

Aug. 11, 2007
Duluth News Tribune

In international North Pole tussle, Duluth can stake a claim
By Steve Kuchera

Efforts by Russia and Canada to assert sovereignty over the Arctic ignore the rights of an earlier claimant.

Almost 47 years ago, Duluth native Thomas Miletich spread dirt from his mother’s garden on the North Pole and claimed the region for Duluth.

“I just thought it might be a good thing to do,” said Miletich, who was serving aboard the nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Seadragon when it surfaced at the North Pole on Aug. 25, 1960.

Some crewmen left pictures of wives and sweethearts at the pole to mark the occasion. Others had letters postmarked there. Miletich spread the dirt, left a Duluth phonebook and claimed the region for his hometown.

“No one thought of doing that but me,” he said. “I’m the only one that claimed it for anybody.”

Miletich, 69, now lives in Gautier, Miss. He joined the Navy in 1954 and served21 years, reaching the rank of chief. He was a torpedoman aboard the Seadragon when it set out in August 1960 to attempt a submerged transit of the Northwest Passage from the Atlantic Ocean to the Beaufort Sea. After successfully completing the passage, the sub went to the pole.

The Seadragon’s crew knew of the mission before setting sail. According to an Aug. 26, 1960, story in the Duluth Herald, Miletich gathered the dirt from his mother’s garden at 225 S. 57th Avenue West while on leave earlier that year. When Italika Miletich asked her son what he was doing, he replied, “I’m going to take possession of the North Pole for Duluth, and I need something to back up my claim.”

Five countries — Canada, Russia, the United States, Norway and Denmark — are competing to secure subsurface rights to the Arctic seabed, which may contain a quarter of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas. Russia recently symbolically staked a claim to the North Pole by sending two submarines to plant the country’s flag on the ocean floor 2.5 miles down. On Wednesday, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper began a three-day trip to the Arctic to assert sovereignty over the area.

“They’re coming in after Duluth,” Miletich said. “No matter what, they’re coming in second.”

It’s not clear, however, if Duluth will try to assert its claim.

“As far as I know the only person who has sovereignty over the North Pole is Santa Claus,” City Hall spokesman Jeff Papas said.

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