50th anniversary of Byrd's historic flight

Pole visitors commemorating the  50th anniversary of Byrd's flight over Pole
About a dozen people flew to Pole on 30 November 1979 to commemorate the 50th anniversary
of Richard E. Byrd's flight over the South Pole in 1929. This photo is from Robert Byrd Breyer
(BB), the Admiral's grandson.

At 1528 on 28 November 1929 (UTC; 0412 29 November UTC+13/the summer time zone now used by McMurdo and Pole), Richard E. Byrd departed Little America aboard the Ford trimotor aircraft "Floyd Bennett." It was piloted by Bernt Balchen, with Harold June as copilot/radio operator, Ashley McKinley as aerial photographer, with Byrd as navigator. They flew south, and at 0114 UTC/1414 SP time they radioed Little America that they'd passed over the South Pole. They then returned north, altered their route to pass over the Axel Heiberg Glacier, landed to refuel at a cache at the foot of Liv Glacier, and returned to Little America at 1008 UTC/2308 SP time on 29 November. For more details and references on this historic flight, see this excellent article by NSF historian Henry Dater from the November/December 1969 Antarctic Journal.

Bob Breyer celebrating at PoleIn more recent times it was popular to commemorate Byrd's South Pole flight. Interestingly, one of the first of these, supposedly marking the 40th anniversary of the flight, happened with the Polar Byrd flight around the world which actually happened 39 years after Byrd's flight. A 45th anniversary flight was conducted by VXE-6 in November 1974--this flight included an airdrop at Pole, and one of the items dropped was an American flag, displayed in the photo at right by Robert Byrd Breyer, Admiral Byrd's grandson. Robert was working as a H&N employee--as an insulator...he spent lots of time working in the utilidor of the new station seen in the background.

In 1979, plans were made for a major commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Byrd's flight. Accordingly, a group of about 25 DV's left Christchurch for McMurdo on 28 November. The group included two former members of Byrd's 1928-30 expedition--Laurence McKinley (Larry) Gould (then age 83), the geologist and chief scientist on Byrd's first 1928-30 expedition (photo from Carleton College with a link to more photos), and dog handler Norman Vaughan (then age 84)...as well as Senator Harry F. Byrd, Jr., of Virginia (Admiral Byrd's nephew), and Robert Byrd Breyer. passengers heading for McMurdoOther visitors included members of the National Science Board including chairman Norman Hackerman, and other NSF senior staff. The 50th anniversary commemorative flight to the South Pole had been scheduled for the next day (the 29th). At left, a photo (from BB) of some of the passengers and flight crew preparing to board the C-141 in Christchurch for the flight to McMurdo.

But...it turned out that the C-141 carrying the DV's south was 20 minutes behind an Air New Zealand DC-10 tourist flight to Antarctica...TE901 (which had departed earlier from Auckland). The C-141 flight crew had been in touch with the ANZ flight, but could not contact that flight as they neared McMurdo. By the time the C-141 landed, TE901 had been reported missing...and as the Air Force C-141 aircraft returned to ChCh, it retraced its route to search for possible debris.

The next morning, when the DV group gathered at the Chalet for their morning briefing, NSF representative Dave Bresnahan informed them of the details about the Air New Zealand crash on the lower slopes of Mt. Erebus and the search for the crash site. One immediate response was from Larry Gould, who said that the group should all go to their rooms and pack and be ready to fly back to Christchurch ASAP as the people on the ice "had a job to do." The group attended a memorial service for the crash victims in the McMurdo chapel at noon. Following the service, Dr. Norman Hackerman announced that a ceremony would be held at 1400 at McM to carry out the ceremony that had been scheduled for Pole. Below, two photos of the Byrd flight commemorations at McMurdo. Gould did not make the commemorative flight later that day, but he did display the commemorative banner for Byrd's flight in front of the Byrd bust at McMurdo.

Gould at McMurdo
Some members of the group in front of the Byrd statue at McMurdo (BB).
Laurence M. Gould displaying the 50th anniversary banner of Byrd's flight over the Pole
Larry Gould (right) displays the commemorative flag in front of the Byrd bust at McMurdo.

Gould at McMurdo
The photo at left, as well as the commemorative banner photo at above right, are from the Carleton College archive about Larry Gould, as is the one at left where he is wearing his distinctive red tam. [A personal aside...my mother attended Carleton College in 1940-43, she knew Gould. Inside of the copy of Gould's book Cold that I inherited, there was an undated Christmas card to my mother from Laurence and his wife. Here's the cover (Willis Hall at Carleton College) and the inside inscription signed by Larry and his wife Margaret. Alas, my mother died of cancer when I was two years old...so no stories from her.]

VXE-6 aircraft XD-01, to be piloted by CDR Jack Paulus, had been scheduled for the 50th anniversary flight to Pole on the 29th. But...XD-01, as well as well as XD-03 (which was to be piloted by CDR Paulus) had been involved in the search efforts and were, of course, unavailable. However, a member of Congress in the group (not Senator Byrd) said he still wanted to visit Pole. Accordingly, arrangements were made for a flight on the next day (30 November). This was a more routine supply flight piloted by CDR Jack Paulus. About 10 of the 25 members of the DV group participated, including Senator Byrd, Robert Breyer, and Norman Vaughan. Larry Gould did not go.

When the flight returned to McMurdo, the DV's immediately boarded a waiting C-141 for the return trip to Christchurch.

signed poster for the 50th anniversary flight
This small poster at Pole commemorated the event. It was signed by many participants of the 1979 trip.

Here's an incomplete list of the event participants as deciphered from the signatures on the above poster...I could not decipher a couple of the names:

Robert Byrd Breyer (Byrd's grandson)
Morris D. Busby (U.S. State Department)
Senator Harry F. Byrd, Jr.(D-VA) (RADM Byrd's nephew)
Herbert D. Doan (Member, National Science Board)
Al Esser (Holmes & Narver)
Laurence M. Gould (member of the first 1928-30 Byrd expedition)
Norman Hackerman (Chairman, National Science Board)
Grover E. Murray (Vice Chairman, National Science Board)
Thomas Pickering (Assistant Secretary of State)
Walter R. Seelig (NSF Representative, New Zealand)
Edward P. Todd (NSF Director of Polar Programs)
COL Jerry Vaughan, USAF (son of Norman Vaughan and copilot of the C-141 that flew the group from
   Christchurch to McMurdo)
Norman D. Vaughan (member of the first 1928-30 Byrd expedition)
RADM Ross N. Williams, USN (Naval Deputy to NOAA)
R. James Woolsey (Under Secretary of the Navy)
Representative Jack Wydler (R-NY)

Below, two other images of the commemorative poster:

the signed Byrd flight poster
Here's an older (January 2004) look at the framed poster from Seth White.
poster marking the 50th anniversary flight
An unmarked original poster. Note that some of the border seen here is obscured by the frame in the Pole photos.
The flight was also commemorated at Pole, although I don't know the source of this sign:
large sign on the side of the science building
This large sign was on the science building in 1980 (photo from Mike Savage).
another view of the sign on the science building
The sign stayed around awhile...this photo is from the DF-81 Navy cruisebook.
Other sources and credits...the signed poster photo was taken by me during my 2005 winter, at that time this was displayed in the pool room in the dome. I do not recall seeing it in the new station during my 2008 deployment. The photo of Robert Byrd Breyer waving the flag at Pole is courtesy Billy-Ace Baker. The unmarked original poster is from this New Zealand History government page.