Interview of Walter R. Jones by Brian Shoemaker
Creators:Jones, Walter R., 1919-
MetadataShow full item record
Publisher:Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program
Series/Report no.:Polar Oral History Program
Walter Jones served in the U.S. Navy for twenty-five years, from 1943 to 1968. He was a mechanic (a “SeaBee”) in WWII, and also served in the Korean War, and achieved the rank of Chief Petty Officer. In 1956, Jones, an experienced EO, or Equipment Operator, volunteered for Operation Deep Freeze II. He was placed in charge of maintaining all of the heavy equipment, including the LGPD8’s, or Low Ground Pressure D8 Caterpillars, usually referred to as Cats. These indispensable tractors could pull 20-ton sleds, and yet because of their wide tread did not sink into the snow. En route to Antarctica, Jones flew to Christchurch, New Zealand, and from there he traveled to the base at McMurdo Sound aboard the USS Glacier, the Navy’s newest icebreaker at the time. After a one-day stop for unloading fuel, Jones proceeded to the base at Little America. The Cats were unloaded first, as they were needed to haul loads from the ship to the base. It was November when Jones arrived at Little America, and there was 24-hour daylight. Thus, there was no such thing as a regular working day for the men, who usually worked 12-hour shifts and sometimes longer. Among the highlights of Jones’ year in Antarctica were the two tractor train trips, or traverses, he made overland to Byrd Station. The first trip was made in November 1956. The traverse party consisted of seven Cats, each of which pulled two 20 tons sleds. In addition, one of the Cats also pulled a generator on skis for welding. The original plan was to proceed single file, but soon it was discovered that the last Cat in the train was exposed to very bumpy terrain caused by the tracks of the lead tractors. It was decided that each Cat would make it own path traveling in virgin snow, with three in width in the front of the train, and four in the back. One Cat pulled the sleeping and messing (food service) wanigan. The crew had two shifts of 9 men each, and the shifts rotated in sleeping and eating. On Jones’ first traverse, a sled broke through the ice. Two Army experts, using controlled charges, blew up portions of the ice encasing the trapped sled. The Cats then filled in the crevasse sufficiently with snow to allow the sled to be freed. It was very dangerous work, despite the use of crevasse detectors. It took 7 days to travel from Little America to Byrd Station. Immediately after arrival at Byrd Station, Jones and his party, with hardly a break from their arduous trip, were asked by Paul Siple, the senior civilian official, to help construct the base. Once the Cats were refueled Jones and his men returned to Little America. They were greeted by a party, but because of a supply mix-up the only meat available was hamburger, and there were no alcoholic drinks. Still the party was a lot of fun. Once back in camp, Jones and his men worked to transfer fuel from the 50-gallon drums, dropped by the Air Force, to storage bladders further inland. The drums were dropped on the Barrier, a term used to describe the edge of the glacier, or the place where the ocean meets the land. More precisely it was where the Ross Ice Shelf met the glacier coming off Marie Byrd Land. Transferring fuel off the Barrier was difficult and potentially dangerous, especially when the return of winter brought bitter cold and 24-hour darkness. In places, the Barrier could be 700 feet high, and there was the constant danger of crevasses. Other tasks included hauling snow for the snow-melter, the source of fresh water for the camp. Jones reports that he had excellent relations with the civilian scientists. He also praised Matt Orendorf, head of the SeaBees. Carl Lyman, and others, including Jones, operated ham radio, an important morale booster. Given favorable weather, and the necessary phone patch (not always available), a man could call home anywhere in the states, and sometimes free of charge. His call sign was KC4USA. He was written up for his ham radio work in the New York Times. An unforgettable memory was the first sunrise at the end of winter. Jones took pictures, although on the first day it lasted only a few minutes. On the second day it lasted 10 minutes. He also enjoyed seeing the Aurora Australis, the southern equivalent of the northern Aurora Borealis. He reports that morale was good among the men despite the cold temperatures and the seasonal darkness. After one full year in Antarctica, Jones flew home. He rejoined his wife and three children in time for Christmas. His home stay was short, and he was ordered back to Antarctica for Deep Freeze II. Once again he stayed for a full year. His chief responsibility was to oversee the operation of the ham radio system. He made about 1500 ham patches during the year. Jones was amused because frequently the first question the men would ask during a call home was “How is the car?” Once he put in a call to the North Pole. Jones listened in to all calls to ensure that no sensitive data was mentioned. He had high praise for his superior officer, Commander Marvel, who made certain Jones and his men got everything they needed. Jones’s Navy rank at the time was EORM-1, or Equipment Operator, Radioman, First Class. No other person in the Navy had this precise rank. One of his best radiomen was Billy Baker, a “good man,” who in later years would contribute many articles to The Polar Times. In November, 1964, Jones returned home, and never visited Antarctica again. In later years he has had few contacts with people he met in Antarctica. He looks back on his time there as one of the highlights of his military career. Major Topics: Brief comments about Operations Deep Freeze I and II Role of ham radio operator Challenges and personal interactions of living in Antarctica Operating heavy equipment, including CATS Traverses from Little America to McMurdo
Baker, Billy H., radioman, pp. 52-53 Keel, Max, lost his life in a crevasse, p. 14 Lyman, Carl, ham radio operator, p. 29 Marvel, [?], Commander, p. 50 Orendorf, Max, Head of the SeaBees, p. 28 Siple, Paul, Head Scientist at Byrd Station during Deep Freeze II, p. 19
Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
Other Identifiers:Record Group Number: 56.47
Rights:Restrictions: This item is not restricted.
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