Richard E. Byrd
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|Richard Evelyn Byrd|
|Birth name||Richard Evelyn Byrd, Jr.|
25 October 1888|
|Died||11 March 1957
|Place of burial||Arlington National Cemetery|
|Service/branch||United States Navy|
|Years of service||1912–1927
|Battles/wars||World War I
World War II
|Awards||Medal of Honor
Navy Distinguished Service Medal
Distinguished Flying Cross
Legion of Merit
Congressional Gold Medal
Rear Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd, Jr., USN (25 October 1888 – 11 March 1957) was an American naval officer who specialized in feats of exploration. He was a pioneering American aviator, polar explorer, and organizer of polar logistics. Aircraft flights, in which he served as a navigator and expedition leader, crossed the Atlantic Ocean, a segment of the Arctic Ocean, and a segment of the Antarctic Plateau. Byrd claimed that his expeditions had been the first to reach the North Pole and the South Pole by air. His South Pole claim is generally supported by a consensus of those who have examined the evidence. Byrd was a recipient of the Medal of Honor, the highest honor for heroism given by the United States.
He was the son of Esther Bolling (Flood) and Richard Evelyn Byrd, Sr. He was a descendant of one of the First Families of Virginia. His ancestors include planter John Rolfe and his wife Pocahontas, William Byrd II of Westover Plantation, who established Richmond, and Robert "King" Carter, a colonial governor. He was the brother of Virginia Governor and U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd, a dominant figure in Virginia Democratic Party between the 1920s and 1960s; their father served as Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates for a time.
Admiral Byrd was married (20 January 1915) to the former Marie Donaldson Ames (he named a region of Antarctic land he discovered "Marie Byrd Land") and had four children:
- Richard Evelyn Jr., (grandchildren Richard Byrd, Leverett S. Byrd, Ames Byrd, and Harry Flood Byrd II)
- Evelyn Bolling Byrd Clarke (grandchildren Evelyn Byrd Clarke, Marie Ames Clarke, Eleanor Clarke, and Richard Byrd Clarke)
- Catherine Agnes Byrd Breyer (grandchildren Robert Byrd Breyer and Katherine Ames Breyer)
- Helen Byrd Stabler (grandchildren David Stabler and Ann Blanchard Stabler)
He also had 3 great grandchildren by Richard Byrd Clarke
- Samuel Ames Clarke
- Anna Marie Clarke
- Richard Byrd Clarke Jr
Byrd attended the Virginia Military Institute for two years and spent one year at the University of Virginia before financial circumstances inspired his transfer to the United States Naval Academy, where he was appointed Midshipman on May 28, 1908.
On June 8, 1912 he graduated from Academy and was commissioned an ensign in the United States Navy. On July 14, 1912 he was assigned to the battleship USS Missouri and later assigned to the gunboat USS Dolphin. On March 15, 1916 he was medically retired, promoted to the rank of lieutenant (junior grade) and assigned as the Inspector and Instructor for the Rhode Island Naval Militia in Providence, Rhode Island.
Although technically retired, Byrd was able to serve as a retired officer on active duty during the First World War. He took flying lessons and earned is pilot wings. He developed a passion for flight, and pioneered many techniques for navigating airplanes over the open ocean including drift indicators and bubble sextants. Byrd was assigned to the Office of Naval Operatoins and was promoted to lieutenant on September 2, 1918 and to temporary lieutenant commander on September 21, 1918.
After the war, Byrd's expertise in aerial navagation resulted in his appointment to plan the flight path for the U.S. Navy's 1919 transatlantic crossing. Of the three flying boats that attempted it, only Albert Read's NC-4 aircraft completed the trip, becoming the first ever transatlantic flight.
1926 North Pole flight, and controversy 
On 9 May 1926, Byrd and pilot Floyd Bennett attempted a flight over the North Pole in a Fokker F-VII Tri-motor called the Josephine Ford. This flight went from Spitsbergen (Svalbard) and back to its take-off airfield. Byrd claimed to have reached the Pole. This trip earned Byrd widespread acclaim, including being awarded the Medal of Honor and enabled him to secure funding for subsequent attempts to fly over the South Pole.
From 1926 until 1996, there were doubts, defenses, and heated controversy about whether or not Byrd actually reached the North Pole. In 1958 Norwegian-American aviator and explorer Bernt Balchen cast doubt on Byrd's claim on the basis of his extensive personal knowledge of the airplane's speed. In 1971 Balchen speculated that Byrd had simply circled aimlessly while out of sight of land. However, Floyd Bennett, the pilot on the trip never contested that they didn't reach the pole while he was still alive(Bennett would pass away in 1928). Simply put, the barren vicinity that the Josephine Ford reached was considered at the time, the geographical North Pole, rather than the pinpoint North Pole.
The 1996 release of Byrd's diary of the 9 May 1926 flight revealed erased (but still legible) sextant sights that sharply differ with Byrd's later 22 June typewritten official report to the National Geographic Society. Byrd took a sextant reading of the Sun at 7:07:10 GCT. His erased diary record shows the apparent (observed) solar altitude to have been 19°25'30", while his later official typescript reports the same 7:07:10 apparent solar altitude to have been 18°18'18". On the basis of this and other data in the diary, Dennis Rawlins concluded that Byrd steered accurately, and flew about 80% of the distance to the Pole before turning back because of an engine oil leak, but later falsified his official report to support his claim of reaching the pole. Others disagree with Rawlins. In 1998, Colonel William Molett, an experienced navigator published "Due north?". Molett maintained that Rawlins had put too much significance in erased navigational calculations which can be explained by any number of other reasons, including favorable windspeeds as well as simple human error due to lack of sleep and stress.
Accepting that the conflicting data in the typed report's flight times indeed require both northward and southward groundspeeds greater than the flight's 85 mph airspeed, a remaining Byrd defender posits a westerly-moving anti-cyclone that tailwind-boosted Byrd's groundspeed on both outward and inward legs, allowing the distance claimed to be covered in the time claimed. (The theory is based on rejecting handwritten sextant data in favor of typewritten alleged dead-reckoning data.) This suggestion has been refuted by Dennis Rawlins who adds that the sextant data in the long unavailable original official typewritten report are all expressed to 1", a precision not possible on Navy sextants of 1926 and not the precision of the sextant data in Byrd's diary for 1925 or the 1926 flight, which was normal (half or quarter of a minute of arc). Some sources claim that Floyd Bennett and Byrd later revealed, in private conversations, that they did not reach the pole. One source claims that Floyd Bennett later told a fellow pilot that they did not reach the pole. It is also claimed that Byrd confessed his failure to reach the North Pole during a long walk with Dr. Isaiah Bowman in 1930.
If Byrd and Bennett did not reach the North Pole, it is extremely likely that the first flight over the Pole occurred a few days later, on May 12, 1926 with the flight of the airship Norge and its crew of Roald Amundsen, Umberto Nobile, Oscar Wisting, and others. This flight went from Spitsbergen (Svalbard) to Alaska nonstop, so there is little doubt that they went over the North Pole. Amundsen and Wisting had both been members of the first expedition to the South Pole, December 1911. Later, the first human being to actually set foot on the North Pole ice was Joseph O. Fletcher, after he landed his aircraft and made a short excursion.
Trans-Atlantic flight, 1927 
In 1927 Byrd announced he had the backing of the 'American Trans-Oceanic Company, Inc.', which was established in 1914 by Rodman Wanamaker with the purpose of building the aircraft to complete the journey. Byrd was one of several aviators who attempted to win the Orteig Prize in 1927 for making the first nonstop flight between the United States and France. His flight was sponsored by department-store magnate Rodman Wanamaker, an early visionary of Trans-Atlantic commercial flight.
Once again Byrd named Floyd Bennett as his chief pilot, with support from Bernt Balchen, Bert Acosta, and George Noville. During a practice takeoff with Tony Fokker at the controls and Bennett in the co-pilots seat, the Fokker Trimotor airplane, America, crashed, severely injuring Bennett and slightly injuring Byrd. As the plane was being repaired, Charles Lindbergh won the prize. But Byrd continued with his quest, naming Balchen to replace Bennett as chief pilot. Byrd, Balchen, Acosta, and Noville flew from Roosevelt Field East Garden City, New York on 29 June 1927. Arriving over France, cloud cover prevented a landing in Paris; they returned to the coast of Normandy, crash-landing near the beach at Ver-sur-Mer without fatalities on 1 July 1927.
After he returned to the US, Byrd wrote an article for the August 1927 edition of Popular Science Monthly in which he predicted that while specially modified aircraft with one to three crewmen would fly the Atlantic non-stop, it would be another 20 year before it would be realized on a commercial scale.
First Antarctic expedition, 1928–1930 
||It has been suggested that Arthur Treadwell Walden be merged into this article. (Discuss) Proposed since January 2013.|
In 1928, Byrd began his first expedition to the Antarctic involving two ships, and three airplanes: Byrd's Flagship was The City of New York (a Norwegian sealing ship previously named Samson that had come into fame as a ship in the vicinity of Titanic when the latter was sinking); a Ford Trimotor called the Floyd Bennett (named after the recently deceased pilot of Byrd's previous expeditions); a Fairchild FC-2W2, NX8006, built 1928, named "Stars And Stripes" (now displayed at the Virginia Aviation Museum, on loan from the National Air and Space Museum); and a Fokker Universal monoplane called the Virginia (Byrd's birth state). A base camp named "Little America" was constructed on the Ross Ice Shelf and scientific expeditions by snowshoe, dog-sled, snowmobile, and airplane began. Photographic expeditions and geological surveys were undertaken for the duration of that summer, and constant radio communications were maintained with the outside world. After their first winter, their expeditions were resumed, and on 28 November 1929, the famous flight to the South Pole and back was launched. Byrd, along with pilot Bernt Balchen, co-pilot/radioman Harold June, and photographer Ashley McKinley, flew the Ford Trimotor to the South Pole and back in 18 hours, 41 minutes. They had difficulty gaining enough altitude, and they had to dump empty gas tanks, as well as their emergency supplies, in order to achieve the altitude of the Polar Plateau. However, the flight was successful, and it entered Byrd into the history books.
As a result of his notoriety, Byrd was promoted to the rank of rear admiral by a special act of Congress on December 21, 1929. As he was only 41 years old at the time, this promotion made Byrd the youngest admiral in the history of the United States Navy. (Note - Some sources claim that the distinction of being the youngest admiral in the history of the US Navy belongs to Elmo Zumwalt but Zumwalt was 44 years old at the time of his promotion to rear admiral.)
After a further summer of exploration, the expedition returned to North America on 18 June 1930. A 19 year-old American Boy Scout, Paul Allman Siple, was chosen to accompany the expedition. Unlike the 1926 flight, this expedition was honored with the gold medal of the American Geographical Society. This was also seen in the film With Byrd at the South Pole (1930) which covered his trip there.
Byrd, by then an internationally recognized, pioneering American polar explorer and aviator, served for a time as Honorary National President (1931–1935) of Pi Gamma Mu, the international honor society in the social sciences. In 1928, he carried the Society's flag during a historic expedition to the Antarctic to dramatize the spirit of adventure into the unknown, characterizing both the natural and social sciences.
Byrd's later Antarctic expeditions 
||This section needs additional citations for verification. (November 2011)|
Byrd undertook four more expeditions to Antarctica from 1933–35, 1939–40, 1946–47 and 1955–56.
As a senior officer in the United States Navy, Byrd, performed national defense service during World War II (1941–45), mostly as a consultant to the USN high commanders.
On his second expedition, in 1934, Byrd spent five winter months alone operating a meteorological station, Advance Base, from which he narrowly escaped with his life after suffering carbon monoxide poisoning from a poorly ventilated stove. Unusual radio transmissions from Byrd finally began to alarm the men at the base camp, who then attempted to go to Advance Base. The first two trips were failures due to darkness, snow, and mechanical troubles. Finally, Thomas Poulter, E.J. Demas, and Amory Waite arrived at Advanced Base, where they found Byrd in poor physical health. The men remained at Advanced Base until 12 October when an airplane from the base camp picked up Dr. Poulter and Byrd. The rest of the men returned to base camp with the tractor. This expedition is described by Byrd in his autobiography Alone. It is also commemorated in a U.S. postage stamp issued at the time, and a considerable amount of mail using it was sent from Byrd's base at Little America, which was powered by a Jacobs Wind 2.5 kW. Later a souvenir sheet was also issued.
In late 1938, Byrd visited Hamburg and was invited to participate in the 1938/1939 German "Neuschwabenland" Antarctic Expedition, but declined.
Byrd's third expedition was his first one on which he had the official backing of the U.S. government. The project included extensive studies of geology, biology, meteorology and exploration. Within a few months, in March 1940, Byrd was recalled to active duty in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. The expedition continued in Antarctica without him. From 1942 to 1945 he headed important missions to the Pacific, including surveys of remote islands for airfields. On one assignment he visited the fighting front in Europe. He was repeatedly cited for meritorious service and was present at the Japanese surrender.
The fourth culminating expedition, Operation Highjump, is the largest Antarctic expedition to date. In 1946, US Navy Secretary James Forrestal assembled a huge amphibious naval force for an Antarctic Expedition expected to last six to eight months. Besides the flagship USS Mount Olympus and the aircraft carrier USS Philippine Sea, there were thirteen US Navy support ships, six helicopters, six flying boats, two seaplane tenders and fifteen other aircraft. The total number of personnel involved was over 4,000. The armada arrived in the Ross Sea on 31 December 1946, and made aerial explorations of an area half the size of the United States, recording ten new mountain ranges. The major area covered was the eastern coastline of Antarctica from 150 degrees east to the Greenwich meridian.
As part of the multinational collaboration for the International Geophysical Year (IGY) 1957–58, Byrd commanded the U.S. Navy Operation Deep Freeze I in 1955–56, which established permanent Antarctic bases at McMurdo Sound, the Bay of Whales, and the South Pole.
Awards, decorations, honors 
By the time he died, he had amassed twenty-two citations and special commendations, nine of which were for bravery and two for extraordinary heroism in saving the lives of others. In addition, he received the Medal of Honor, the Silver Lifesaving Medal, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Navy Cross, and had three ticker-tape parades. He preferred to dwell on the substance of his global adventures, and the stories of those that had gone awry as lessons learned.
Byrd was one of only four Americans in history entitled to wear a medal with their own image on it. The others were Admiral George Dewey, General John J. Pershing and Admiral William T. Sampson. As Byrd's image is on both the 1st and 2nd Byrd Antarctic Expedition medals he was the only American entitled to wear two medals with his own image on them.
In 1927, the Boy Scouts of America made Byrd an Honorary Scout, a new category of Scout created that same year. This distinction was given to "American citizens whose achievements in outdoor activity, exploration and worthwhile adventure are of such an exceptional character as to capture the imagination of boys...". The other eighteen who were awarded this distinction were: Roy Chapman Andrews; Robert Bartlett; Frederick Russell Burnham; George Kruck Cherrie; James L. Clark; Merian C. Cooper; Lincoln Ellsworth; Louis Agassiz Fuertes; George Bird Grinnell; Charles A. Lindbergh; Donald Baxter MacMillan; Clifford H. Pope; George P. Putnam; Kermit Roosevelt; Carl Rungius; Stewart Edward White; Orville Wright.
Also in 1927, the City of Richmond dedicated the Richard Evelyn Byrd Flying Field, now Richmond International Airport, in Henrico County, Virginia. Byrd's Fairchild FC-2W2, NX8006, "Stars And Stripes" is on display at the Virginia Aviation Museum located on the north side of the airport, on loan from the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. He was a 1929 recipient of the Langley Gold Medal from the Smithsonian Institution.
Lunar crater Byrd is named after him, as was the United States Navy dry cargo ship USNS Richard E. Byrd (T-AKE-4) and the now decommissioned Charles F. Adams-class guided missile destroyer USS Richard E. Byrd (DDG-23)
In Glen Rock, New Jersey Richard E. Byrd School was dedicated in 1931. The Polar Research Center at Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio was named in honor of Admiral Byrd in 1984. In 1958 the Richard Byrd library, part of the Fairfax County Public Library system opened in Springfield, Virginia. Admiral Richard E. Byrd Middle School, located in Frederick County, Virginia, was opened in 2005, and is decorated with pictures and letters from Byrd's life and career.
Richard E. Byrd Elementary School, a Department of Defense School located in Negishi (Yokohama, Japan) opened on September 20, 1948. The name was changed to R.E. Byrd Elementary School on April 5, 1960.
The fiftieth anniversary of Byrd's first flight over the South Pole was commemorated in a set of two postage stamps by Australian Antarctic Territory in 1979.
Medal of Honor citation 
Rank and organization: Commander, United States Navy. Born: 25 October 1888, Winchester, Va. Appointed from: Virginia. Other Navy awards: Navy Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit with gold star, Distinguished Flying Cross.
For distinguishing himself conspicuously by courage and intrepidity at the risk of his life, in demonstrating that it is possible for aircraft to travel in continuous flight from a now inhabited portion of the earth over the North Pole and return.
Awards and decorations 
|Naval Aviator Badge|
|1st Row||Medal of Honor
(1926, Tiffany Cross version)
|2nd Row||Navy Distinguished Service Medal
with award star
|Legion of Merit
with award star
|Distinguished Flying Cross
||Navy Commendation Medal
with two award stars
|3rd Row||Silver Lifesaving Medal
|World War I Victory Medal
with three battle clasps
|Byrd Antarctic Expedition Medal
issued in Gold (1928–1930)
|Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition Medal
|4th Row||American Defense Service Medal
with service star (1940)
|American Campaign Medal
|European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal
with service star
|Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
with three service stars (1942)
|5th Row||World War II Victory Medal (1945)||United States Antarctic Expedition Medal
issued in Gold (1939–1941)
|Antarctica Service Medal
posthumously eligible (1960)
|Officer of the Legion of Honor|
Dates of rank 
|Ensign||Lieutenant, Junior Grade||Lieutenant|
|8 June 1912||15 March 1916||2 September 1918|
|Lieutenant Commander||Commander||Rear Admiral|
|3 March 1925||9 May 1926||21 December 1929|
See also 
- List of Antarctic expeditions
- List of Medal of Honor recipients
- List of Notable Freemasons
- Laurence McKinley Gould
- Mount Iphigene
- VMI to UVA to USNA
- Navy Register, 1914. pg. 64.
- Navy Register, 1917. pg. 196.
- Century of Flight: The Atlantic Challenge
- Montague, Richard (1971). Oceans, Poles, and Airmen. Random House Publishing. p. 48.
- Goerler, Raimund E. (1998). To the Pole: The Diary and Notebook of Richard E. Byrd, 1925–1927. Ohio State University Press. pp. 84–85, compare to p 154.
- New York Times,9 May 1996, page 1; Rawlins, Dennis (January 2000). "Byrd's Heroic North Pole Failure". Polar Record (Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge) 36: 25–50; see pages 33–34. Rawlins, Dennis (January 2000). "Byrd's Heroic 1926 Flight & Its Faked Last Leg" (PDF). DIO, the International Journal of Scientific History 10: 2–106; see page 40. Retrieved 13 July 2007.
- The North Pole Flight of Richard E. Byrd: An Overview of the Controversy, Ohio State University
- Portney, Joseph (2000). "The Polar Flap: Byrd's Flight Confirmed". Litton Systems, Inc. See also Portney, Joseph (1973). "The Polar Flap: Byrd's Flight Confirmed". J.Inst.Nav 20 (3): 208–218. and Portney, Joseph (1992). "History of Aerial Polar Navigation". J.Inst.Nav 39 (2): 255–264.
- Rawlins, Dennis (January 2000). "Byrd's Heroic 1926 Flight & Its Faked Last Leg" (PDF). DIO, the International Journal of Scientific History 10: 2–106; see pages 69–76; also pages 54, 84–88, 99, 105. Retrieved 13 July 2007.
- Ibid pp.39–41
- Nash, Simon (2005). The Last Explorer. Hodder. p. 149.
- Fairbanks (2002). Polar Extremism: the world of Lincoln Ellsworth. University of Alaska Press. Chapter 4.
- Check-Six.com – The Ditching of the "America"
- "Why We May Wait 20 Years for Ocean Airliners" Popular Science, August 1927, p. 9
- U.S. Navy Register, 1930.
- "Richard E. Byrd 1888–1957". South-Pole.com. Retrieved 8 May 2011.
- "Byrd Antarctic Expedition III, 1939–41". South-Pole.com. Retrieved 8 May 2011.
- Paul Skowron, "A Philatelic Introduction to B.A.E. II: The Stamps"
- Admiral Richard E. Byrd-Arlington National Cemetery
- "Admiral Byrd Dies at 68. Made 5 Polar Expeditions. Admiral Flew Over Both Poles and Helped Establish Antarctic as a Continent". New York Times. 9 Oct 1988. Retrieved 23 May 2008. "5 Arctic and Antarctic Trips Provided Groundwork for U.S. Defense Concepts Frigid Testing Ground First Trip in 1928–1929. Born in Virginia. Polar Flight Eclipsed Work Under Federal Auspices. Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd, U.S.N., retired, the first man to fly over the North and South Poles, died in his sleep tonight at his Brimmer Street home. He was 68 years old. ..."
- "Around the World". Time (magazine). 29 August 1927. Retrieved 24 October 2007.
- "Milestones:Long-Range Shortwave Voice Transmissions from Byrd's Antarctic Expedition, 1934". IEEE Global History Network. IEEE. Retrieved 3 August 2011.
- "Congressional Gold, Silver, and Bronze Medals awarded to the members of Rear Admiral Richard Byrd's first Antarctic expedition". artandhistory.house.gov. Retrieved 2012-09-11.
- Public Law 79-185, 59 Stat. 536
- Richard E. Byrd Valor Awards
- Byrd Service Record
- Time (magazine); Monday, 8 November 1926. Born. To Mrs. Marie Ames Byrd, of Winchester, Virginia, and Boston, a daughter. Mrs. Byrd is the wife of Lieut. Commander Richard Evelyn Byrd, U.S.N., who flew to the North Pole and back from Spitzbergen last spring. Lieutenant Byrd's brother, Harry F. Byrd, is Governor of Virginia.
- Rodgers, Eugene (March 1997). Beyond the Barrier: The Story of Byrd's First Expedition to Antarctica. United States Naval Institute. ISBN 978-1-55750-713-6.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Richard E. Byrd|
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Richard E. Byrd|
- "The North Pole Flight of Richard E. Byrd: An Overview of the Controversy". Polar Archival Program, Ohio State University. 2007. Retrieved 14 July 2007.
- "70South – information on Richard E. Byrd". 25 October 2007.
- "Richard E. Byrd's 1926 Flight Towards the North Pole" (PDF). 25 October 2007.
- "To the Pole: The Diary and Notebook of Richard E. Byrd, 1925–1927". 15 February 2008.
- "The Flight of the 'America' – 1927". 25 October 2007.
- "Richard E. Byrd 1888–1957". 25 October 2007.
- "Did Richard Byrd get to the North Pole in 1926?". 25 October 2007.
- "A navigation expert's look at how Byrd's claim is one possible interpretation of his diary.". 25 October 2007.
- "The History Of The Sailing Vessel City of New York, Admiral Byrd's Exploration Ship, Skippered By Captain Charles J. McGuinness". Tim McGuinness, PhD. 25 October 2007.
- "The Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University". 25 October 2007.
- "Richard E. Byrd". Claim to Fame: Medal of Honor recipients. Find a Grave. Retrieved 25 October 2007.
- "At the bottom of the World", Popular Mechanics, August 1930, pp. 225–241
- The short film Longines Chronoscope with Richard E. Byrd is available for free download at the Internet Archive [more]