National Geographic : 1957 Jul
The National Geographic Magazine from his girl in West Palm Beach, Florida. A few minutes ago he showed me the post mark. Seven days to the South Pole! On a lounge chair sprawls lanky Lt. (jg.) John Tuck, Jr., officer in charge of military personnel. His silky brown beard is the envy of the whole camp (page 22). Jack's eyes are closed, while softly, near his ear, a high fidelity tape recorder lulls him to sleep. At the South Pole he is listening to Beethoven! Modern Explorers Arrive by Air The last polar explorers ever to sleep here had virtually no comforts at all. Many times we have thought of Britain's Capt. Robert Falcon Scott and his four companions, who pitched a trail tent here on the snow 45 years ago. Their wet sleeping bags gave them only fitful rest. Hard biscuits, horsemeat, and pemmican, a greasy mixture of beef, fat, cereal, and powdered fruits, were their only staple foods. So little even of these did they have that visions of food obsessed them. It was January 18, 1912, when Captain Scott and his men planted the Union Jack at the Pole. They were heartbroken to find a Norwegian flag already there. Roald Amund sen and four other Norwegians had reached the South Pole a month before them. "Great God! this is an awful place," Scott wrote in a diary later found with his frozen body, "and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority." In his wildest dreams, Scott could never have imagined the modern comforts we enjoy today at the South Pole. But it hasn't been easy, even in the age of the airplane. In 1929 Admiral Byrd, only 18 years be hind Amundsen and Scott, became the first to fly a plane over the Pole. But not until 1956 did human beings stand again on the polar snow where Scott had camped. When Rear Adm. George J. Dufek and six companions landed a U. S. Navy plane on the flat, almost featureless polar plateau on October 31, 1956, they found the temperature 580 below zero (pages 7, 10, and 11). A 10 mile wind made it the equivalent of nearly twice that in its effect on human flesh.* The seven men were on the ground 49 minutes. Wielding an ax to chop a hole for the United States flag in the crusted snow, Admiral Dufek paused to look at his crew members. Patches of white skin showed that some faces were already freezing. "You have frostbite on your face, Doug," he said. "You have it too, Admiral," replied Capt. Douglas Cordiner. "Let's get... out of here!" Admiral Dufek shouted. But getting out was not so easy as landing. Skis of the Navy R4D were frozen to the snow. Fifteen JATO (jet assisted take-off) propulsion bottles were required to blast the plane free and into the air. Through the frosted windshield the pilot, Lt. Comdr. Conrad "Gus" Shinn, could see nothing. He took off on instruments. At 60 knots he reported, "We're flying!" "That's not flying speed, is it, sir?" pro tested crew chief John Strider. "It sure isn't," Shinn said. "But we're flying." Engine oil was leaking. Red warning lights flashed on Shinn's instrument panel. Finally someone pulled a circuit breaker, blanking out the ominous lights. As the Navy boys put it, it was "pretty hairy." Hours later, safely back at McMurdo Sound on the Ross Sea, Admiral Dufek told us: "This is too early in the season. It's too cold to operate up there, and it would be humanly impossible to do outside construction work. I'm not going to put men up there until conditions are better." Airstrip Built on Antarctic Ice As commander of U. S. Naval Task Force 43 and Operation Deep Freeze, Admiral Dufek was charged with installing and main taining seven bases and scientific stations in the Antarctic. One of them was to be at the South Pole; the men he spoke of were 23 Navy men, volunteers who were ready to risk their lives to build it. Because I was to be scientific leader at the Pole, I would fly in with the construction crew. For nearly three weeks we marked time waiting for the cold to lessen, while our planes stood by on the McMurdo airstrip. During the last bitter winter night, the Navy had carved a 6,000-foot strip on the snow-covered sea ice of McMurdo Sound, nearly 850 miles from the Pole. Laboring 12 hour shifts under searchlights at tempera tures close to -600, the men had worked in * The full story of this historic landing appears in Admiral Dufek's book, Operation Deepfreeze, pub lished by Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York, 1957.