Antarctic Deep Freeze Oral History Project

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The Antarctic Deep Freeze oral history project was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation and supported by the Antarctic Deep Freeze Association. It consists of taped and transcribed oral history interviews with south polar pioneers to capture individual memory and personal perspective on US involvement in Antarctica during the landmark 1950s, when the physical, scientific, and diplomatic foundations for today's Antarctic operations were built.

All interviewees were invited to review and edit the transcripts of their interviews. Significant additions are enclosed in square brackets. The original paper copies and unaltered tapes have been deposited in the library of the National Science Foundation.

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    Interview of Walter L. Davis by Dian O. Belanger
    (Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program, 2009-04-23T17:46:59Z) Davis, Walter L.
    Seabee Walt Davis volunteered for Antarctic duty in Deep Freeze II for the challenge of fully using his talents. Responsible for equipment maintenance, he was the only professional mechanic at Ellsworth Station. Wintering over in 1957, he assisted the IGY scientists with their equipment problems despite the station leader's objections (though not as much as he later wished). He discussed the ongoing tensions at the station. In DF 61, he wintered over at Byrd, where, as the leading chief, he essentially ran the station, and was the leading chief on the first American overland expedition to the South Pole. He wintered again as the leading chief for motor pool maintenance and public works operations at McMurdo in DF 66.
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    Interview of William H. Littlewood by Dian O. Belanger
    (Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program, 2009-04-23T17:46:56Z) Littlewood, William H.
    Bill Littlewood, a civilian oceanographer in the Navy Hydrographic Office since 1949, had worked off an icebreaker in the Arctic when he learned about the IGY and agreed to participate in a six-month Antarctic expedition in Deep Freeze I (1955-56). In the three subsequent seasons, DF II, III, and IV, he was the senior oceanographer in charge of the teams on all four icebreakers operating in the Southern Ocean-one oceanographer, a chief petty officer, and four sailors per ship. Littlewood described the goals, procedures, and findings of the program; with so little data available, almost everything was new and important. He also recalled personal adventures at Capes Adare, Hallett, and Royds, and the Staten Island's difficulties in the Weddell Sea while trying to site Ellsworth Station. He traveled on three icebreakers, Edisto, Staten Island, and Glacier. An exciting professional opportunity in Sweden inter-rupted his sailing on DF 60.
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    Interview of George Moss by Dian O. Belanger
    (Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program, 2009-04-23T17:46:54Z) Moss, George
    Surveyor chief and navigator George Moss always claimed that he "was volunteered" for Antarctic duty in Deep Freeze I because of his Arctic experience and cold-weather survival training. He was the operations chief for Little America, the senior enlisted man, and an acknowledged, admired leader beyond official duty. A member of the trail party to find a route to inland Byrd Station, he distrusted the approach of the leader, a "hero" of the old school. On the return by Otter with six others of the party, the plane crashed in bad weather. Moss determined that they were far off-course and knew there were no operable airplanes in camp to search for them, so he insisted, contrary to conventional wisdom, that they walk back via Okuma Bay where seals could provide food. All survived. The following spring, he was a member of the first Byrd tractor train and helped survey and build that camp.
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    Interview of Philip M. Smith by Dian O. Belanger
    (Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program, 2009-04-23T17:46:51Z) Smith, Philip M. (Philip Meeks), 1932-
    Lieut. Philip Smith was a crevasse expert in an Army transportation unit in Greenland when Admiral Dufek asked him to blaze a safe trail to Marie Byrd Land. He agreed immediately. After recon-noitering a route by air, the crevasse team blasted and filled seven miles of deadly fissures where the ice sheet met the ice shelf. Smith then guided the first tractor-train through. On his return ship, he was recruited to work for the IGY with the National Academy of Sciences in Washington. The would-be geologist returned to do ice deformation measurements on the Ross Ice Shelf in Deep Freeze III and the following summer to coordinate IGY programs from McMurdo. Joining the US Antarctic Research Program at the National Science Foundation, he planned summer field research supported by LC-130, promoted cooperative international scientific projects, drafted policies on tourism, and helped work out the transfer of financing Navy support to NSF, which then purchased the Navy's services. After science policy work in other agencies, in 1981 he became executive director of the National Research Council, whose Polar Research Board he had earlier helped found to advise NSF on long-range planning.
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    Interview of Paul F. Noonan by Dian O. Belanger
    (Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program, 2009-04-23T17:46:48Z) Noonan, Paul F.
    Photographer Paul Noonan rode the cargo ship Arneb in Deep Freeze II to Wilkes Station where he wintered over. En route the ship got squeezed, near-disastrously, in storm-driven ice by Cape Hallett. On the Antarctic Circle, Wilkes had "almost seasons" but ferocious winds. Noonan helped in the hurried, late-season station-building and organizing of supplies. He kept separate sets of cameras for indoor and outdoor use to avoid drastic temperature changes that would cause alternate condensation and freezing. He documented trips inland to establish and supply the satellite station on the icecap. Like others, he credited IGY leader Carl Eklund and Navy officer-in-charge Donald Burnett for the clean and congenial camp atmosphere, their numerous off-program exploratory and scientific activities. After Wilkes, Noonan volunteered for the Task Force 43 staff, and in Deep Freeze IV he accompanied the Edisto to Ellsworth Station for its transfer to Argentina.
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    Interview of Michael Baronick by Dian O. Belanger
    (Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program, 2009-04-23T17:46:46Z) Baronick, Michael, 1923-2000
    Aviation ordnance chief Mike Baronick was a crew member on the first R5D that flew to the polar continent from New Zealand in December 1955. He wintered over at McMurdo during Deep Freeze I as the senior aviation enlisted man. The line chief for the aviation unit VX-6, he was responsible for all operations on the aircraft-fuel, arrivals and departures, maintenance, preheating. He also had charge of building and running the Beardmore auxiliary base for three spring-summer months of DF II. Mistakenly located that year at the foot of the Liv Glacier, the small temporary camp was a weather station and refueling stop for Pole-to-McMurdo flights. Baronick served in five Deep Freeze operations in all, through DF 60. He died in 2000.
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    Interview of Richard A. Bowers by Dian O. Belanger
    (Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program, 2009-04-23T17:46:43Z) Bowers, Richard A.
    Lieutenant (jg) Richard A. Bowers, a structural engineer with the US Navy's Mobile Construction Battalion (Special), was the Officer-in-Charge of building an air operations facility for the IGY at McMurdo Sound during Operation Deep Freeze I (1955-56) and also the incomparably more difficult construction of South Pole Station, to be supported entirely by air-drop the following austral summer. Wintering over at McMurdo to prepare the 24-man construction crew, materials, and equipment for Pole, he also had charge of developing an ice runway at McMurdo for the heavy wheeled Air Force cargo aircraft. In November 1956 he led the advance party that landed by air on the polar plateau, located the geographic Pole, and in just over one month completed the station. For this achievement he was awarded the Morrell Medal, named for the Seabees founder Adm. Ben Morrell.
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    Interview of Lynn M. Cavendish by Dian O. Belanger
    (Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program, 2009-04-23T17:46:41Z) Cavendish, Lynn M., 1922-2001
    Civil engineer Lynn Cavendish participated in a hastily organized Construction Battalion Base Unit (Detachment Golf) survey program in Deep Freeze I. The party investigated the Cape Royds area and the Taylor Dry Valley as potential sites for a permanent airstrip on land, but neither proved feasible. On a Glacier cruise in Vincennes Bay in March 1956, he led three others on a shore survey. They got caught unprepared in a sudden blizzard and had a frightening struggle along a steep and ice slope to return to the ship. During Deep Freeze II, Cavendish returned as construction officer for McMurdo.
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    Interview of Conrad Shinn by Dian O. Belanger
    (Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program, 2009-04-23T17:46:38Z) Shinn, Conrad, 1922-
    Pilot Gus Shinn first saw Antarctica during Operation Highjump. He took off in an R4D from the aircraft carrier Philippine Sea, the only pilot to land at Little America IV with ski-landing experience. Shinn volunteered for Deep Freeze I, but poor weather and insufficient gasoline forced the R4Ds and Albatrosses to turn back to New Zealand. The next year, with fuselage fuel tanks, he made it, even after reversing course to escort another pilot having electrical problems affecting navigation, although the first-in P2V crashed at McMurdo, with fatalities. On 31 October 1956, he piloted the first plane to land at the South Pole. Taking off again was marginal, but later in the season when it was warmer, he made more than a dozen more Pole landings. Shinn spoke candidly about pilot skill and attitude as well as politics and his own characteristic forthrightness that, in Deep Freeze III, cost him professionally.
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    Interview of John A. Randall by Dian O. Belanger
    (Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program, 2009-04-23T17:46:35Z) Randall, John A., 1935-2005
    John Randall was a twenty-year-old construction mechanic, third class, when he volunteered for MCB (Special) in Deep Freeze I. During the winter at McMurdo he worked long hours to help maintain the overworked equipment for plowing an ice runway, only to have storms fill it up again. A member of the advance party of the Pole construction crew, he learned a great deal paying attention to polar survival training and the know-how of more senior Seabees. He repaired a weasel when it fell improperly on airdrop, leveled snow surfaces for building, retrieved dropped materials. Like others, he considered the first Deep Freeze personnel an "extraordinary collective talent." After intensive training in both nuclear engineering and power-plant operations, Randall returned to McMurdo in 1964-65, and again in 1967-68, to help run the nuclear power plant. He believed in the potential of nuclear power, but this plant was too small to be economical and was later dismantled.
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    Interview of Robert L. Chaudoin by Dian O. Belanger
    (Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program, 2009-04-23T17:46:31Z) Chaudoin, Robert L.
    Yeoman Bob Chaudoin chose Antarctica for the adventure. After serving on Admiral Byrd's staff and then Task Force 43, he transferred to the Seabee battalion MCB (Special) for Deep Freeze I and sailed south on the Glacier. Working closely with Lcdr. D. W. Canham, McMurdo's officer in charge, he typed the station's daily journal (intended as a guide for later report writing) and handled other correspondence. He was a member of the South Pole construction crew and postmarked bags of philatelic mail there. Disappointed to not winter over at Pole, he later helped run the Navy's Antarctic office in Christchurch and accompanied Capt. Edwin MacDonald on a cruise in the Bellingshausen Sea.
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    Interview of William E. Stroup by Dian O. Belanger
    (Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program, 2009-04-23T17:46:28Z) Stroup, William E.
    Seabee Bill Stroup made chief petty officer the same summer he volunteered for Deep Freeze I. He was the chief electrician for Little America and building Byrd Station. Despite chaotic offloading, Stroup found all of his electrical supplies and moved them to tunnels between buildings where those bound for Byrd Station could later be broken out and sorted. He had charge of the supposedly self-regulating generators, which were a constant problem because of an uncorrectable design flaw. Stroup explained the challenges of raising antenna poles in snow, melting snow for water, and improvising equipment and repairs. He discussed the tractor train trip to Byrd, including walking behind the rein-driven equipment in dangerous areas. Having learned the hard way at Little America, he suggested they not disturb the snow at Byrd Station where the station was to go, so it was less work to level for foundations. He found incoming DF II personnel uninterested in learning from the pioneers' experience, a common situation.
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    Interview of George Toney by Dian O. Belanger
    (Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program, 2009-04-23T17:46:25Z) Toney, George
    George Toney was loaned to the secretariat of the US National Committee for the IGY as a US Weather Bureau Arctic logistics specialist. He accompanied the Antarctic reconnaissance cruise of the icebreaker Atka in 1954-55. During Deep Freeze I, he worked on preparations for the IGY Antarctic program-recruiting personnel, training and clothing them, and transporting them and their scientific equipment. Very late, he was appointed scientific leader at inland Byrd Station. When he landed to winter over in January 1957, construction crews that came with supplies by tractor train had erected four buildings, but much outdoor work remained to be done in the waning season. Many materials and supplies never arrived, making improvisation essential and privation a fact of life (though he dismissed this). Working later for the National Science Foundation, he summered twice at McMurdo to coordinate the scientific program with Navy supply and went on the first two cruises of the laboratory ship Eltanin in the early 1960s.
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    Interview of Gilbert Dewart by Dian O. Belanger
    (Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program, 2009-04-23T17:46:23Z) Dewart, Gilbert, 1932-
    Drawn by the mystery of the unknown, geophysicist Gilbert Dewart signed on as a seismologist for the IGY. He wintered over at Wilkes Station where he set up the first of a network of seismograph stations for continuous earthquake coverage of the Antarctic. An elective satellite station about fifty miles inland on the icecap offered a recreational getaway and an opportunity for glaciologists to dig the deepest ice pit of the IGY. Dewart credited scientific leader Carl Eklund for the collegiality of the station and the numerous additional scientific and exploratory activities that were pursued. He wintered again, in 1960, with the Soviets at Mirny Station, where warm friendships overcame the political divides of the time. He accompanied an over-snow traverse to far-inland Vostok Station.
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    Interview of William T. Beckett by Dian O. Belanger
    (Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program, 2009-04-23T17:46:20Z) Beckett, William T., d. 2000
    Utilitiesman, first class, Willie Beckett had charge of installing and maintaining the base utilities heating, plumbing, water-at Little America V during Deep Freeze I.. After wintering over, he drove a D-8 in the tractor train to establish Byrd Station in Deep Freeze II, where he also set up the utilities. Beckett wintered over three more times-at Byrd during DF IV and McMurdo during DF 61 and DF 63. He died in 2000.
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    Interview of Edward N. Ehrlich by Dian O. Belanger
    (Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program, 2009-04-23T17:46:17Z) Ehrlich, Edward N.
    Dr. Edward Ehrlich, then a drafted Navy lieutenant in the medical corps, learned from HMC Ken Aldrich when he volunteered for Deep Freeze I, that little medical planning had been done. But with his officer status and Aldrich's knowledge of Navy procedures they managed to assemble adequate supplies and equipment. Ehrlich designed his own training program. He was appalled by the huge quantities of "medicinal" alcohol that had been supplied for Little America and decided to give it out only recreationally (against Navy regulations) and equally available to all. He performed an appendectomy in camp, a scary and difficult experience. Morale suffered when a driver was killed in a crevasse and when a plane crashed. Ehrlich believed that the station's real leadership came not from the top but rather from respected chief petty officers.
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    Interview of Richard Lucier by Dian O. Belanger
    (Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program, 2009-04-23T17:46:14Z) Lucier, Richard
    Yeoman Richard Lucier was assigned to MCB (Special) when he volunteered for Antarctic duty, only then learning that it meant a whole year away from family and civilization. One of the first personnel to report in at the Seabee base in Davisville, Rhode Island, he handled the administrative paperwork for personnel but also any other work that needed doing, just as he did on arriving at Little America V. He helped unload the ships and build the camp. Lucier and Chaplain Bol copied news broadcasts and prepared a weekly newsletter that they mimeographed and distributed to every bunk. During his last month on the ice he went over to McMurdo to update personnel records there.
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    Interview of James H. Bergstrom by Dian O. Belanger
    (Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program, 2009-04-23T17:46:12Z) Bergstrom, James H.
    Navy pilot and then-Lieutenant Jim Bergstrom volunteered for Operation Deep Freeze I as a GCA (Ground Controlled Approach) officer to guide incoming aircraft attempting to land on the ice in poor visibility. As officer-in-charge of the advance party, he arrived at McMurdo on the icebreaker Edisto in December 1955 and helped in the building of the station. He was Executive Officer of the wintering-over party. When plowing seemed the only way to prepare an ice runway in time for the spring planes, and the prospects iffy, the leadership team reorganized the entire camp to keep snow-removal crews going around the clock. Bergstrom, like other officers, did mess cooking. He fell, shattering both elbows in April 1956, just at the onset of the winter night, but recovered sufficiently to resume his duties and, later, his naval career.
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    Interview of H. Kim Lett by Dian O. Belanger
    (Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program, 2009-04-23T17:46:09Z) Lett, H. Kim
    Twenty-year-old Seabee equipment operator Kim Lett, after brief tractor training on the Greenland icecap, arrived at Little America V to winter over in Deep Freeze II-III. When an underwater projection on the high barrier prevented ship-unloading, he volunteered to help blast it free only to be nearly carried away as the bad ice cracked up. He described snow-melter and fire-watch duty, that included filling the camp stoves with diesel fuel, and having to preheat the heavy vehicles. He assisted with aurora observations and sang in a quartet with Soviet meteorologist Vladimir Rastorguev. In the spring he volunteered to help plow the essential McMurdo runway. He then spent the summer at Hallett Station, remembering the ice so slick on landing that neither he nor the plane could get traction. Lett was probably the only person to work at three IGY stations in a single year.
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    Interview of Philip W. Porter, Jr. by Dian O. Belanger
    (Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program, 2009-04-23T17:46:06Z) Porter, Philip W., Jr.
    Captain Philip Porter, who had earlier been part of the support force for Operation Highjump in 1946-47, commanded the icebreaker Glacier during Deep Freeze 60 and 61. He considered this a plum assignment; orders were general and dependent on conditions and the still-new ship enjoyed popular interest and press attention. The Glacier carried numerous scientists, whose itineraries he planned with NSF representative Philip Smith-what Smith wanted to do, what he felt he could do. He rescued the ice-bound Danish vessel Kista Dan, which had been chartered by Vivian Fuchs, and then, with Fuchs, visited Deception Island and the Falkland Islands, where they were royally treated. Porter explained ship operations as conducted under his supervision, and his own omni-presence on the bridge during icebreaking. Porter said breaking ice was almost instinctual with a trustworthy ship, but his men thought he was exceptionally good at it.