National Geographic : 1953 Oct
471 Bunks, Hot Food, and Warm Cabin Made C-54 a Snug Contrast to Peary's Dog Sleds Last May the National Geographic Society's president and secretary flew from Washington, D. C., to the North Pole and back, with stops at Torbay and Stephenville, Newfoundland, and Thule, Greenland. Here Gilbert Grosvenor (right) and Thomas W. McKnew unfurl The Society's flag, later dropped on the Pole. A similar flag was left there by Lt. Comdr. Richard E. Byrd on his 1926 flight. Off to our left lay Indian Harbour, where Peary, returning in triumph, sent his first wire less message from Labrador to the world: "Stars and Stripes nailed to the Pole". The capital of Greenland, Godthaab, on the southwest coast, reminded us of Count Gaston Micard and Willie Knutsen who embarked there to shoot walruses. The count carried his silk umbrella and rode on a sled fitted with two armchairs, back to back, so he could keep the sun out of his eyes. Ahead lay Melville Bay, where Peary met and recruited his Greenland Eskimos year after year, and Cape York, where a stark shaft unveiled by his daughter, Mrs. Marie Peary Stafford, now commemorates Peary himself. As the plane droned northward, we oc cupied ourselves in checking our cameras and other gear and in talking with the crew. We gave Colonel Shields, the senior officer pres ent, Peary's book, The North Pole. Shields took it off to a corner of the cabin and couldn't be pried loose from it. Before our flight was up, half the officers aboard had made their first enthralled acquaintance with this "guide book" to the Pole. Shortly before five in the afternoon we picked up the radio beam at Thule. For nearly 25 minutes we circled downward, guided at each step by radar operators for Ground Control Approach. Clouds still shrouded the land, but as we let down we sighted the table-top mountain which marks North Star Harbor, Thule's port. Then at last we broke into the clear just above the runway and glided smoothly in. America's Northernmost Air Base Snow still lay thickly about, and the har bor was frozen over; though midsummer was almost upon Thule, it would be perhaps a month before icebreakers could clear the way for the fleet which resupplies the base in its two months of open water.* Some 935 miles from the Pole, Thule was first spotted as a potential base by Knud Rasmussen in 1910. But it was Col. Bernt Balchen who recommended in 1950 that the USAF convert it from a small Danish American weather station into a great oper ating field. Certainly Thule, because of its sheltered position at the foot of Greenland's icecap, its deep bay, and its generally open weather, is an obvious choice for a bastion athwart the circumpolar air routes linking the world's great capitals. * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "Far North with 'Captain Mac,' " by Miriam MacMillan, October, 1951, and "Americans Stand Guard in Green land," by Andrew H. Brown, October, 1946.