In the first place, I did not get a chance to write you yesterday and in the second place – it was Sunday and the stores were closed. But let me start at the beginning, dear.
For no reason at all – our Corps started giving 3 day passes to a city in Belgium. I’ve been there on business – before. Two passes were available for officers in our battalion – so the Colonel sent Lt. Bowman – our adjutant – and me. That was nice of him, considering it was not solicited. So without further ado, I packed my musette bag and away we went. The Army makes all arrangements and we were given a hotel room – fair – gratis; there is also an officers’ mess in town and a bar. That was yesterday. I didn’t bring stationery because I felt certain there would be some here; but I was wrong – and so I couldn’t write; Today I bought this – but I’m sending it ‘Free’ because no stamp service is available. We’ll be here until Wednesday a.m. and then a truck will pick us up; not bad for the middle of a war. Incidentally – all this happened last Saturday p.m. and we took off early Sunday – yesterday a.m.
We had a quiet day yesterday – but interesting. We couldn’t get into the shops – of course – but we window shopped. In the p.m. we walked along the main drag and I suggested to Bill that we drop into the next hotel we came to – just to see who was in the lobby. We did – and found no one there but a Belgian clerk who spoke good English. He told us the place was taken over by the Air Corps and we chatted awhile. He was called away for a few seconds and we just waited around. As we did – the desk phone rang and an old Belgian who couldn’t speak English asked me to take the call. A voice said “I want to speak with Admiral Byrd.” I thought first I hadn’t heard correctly so I asked him to repeat the name. Again the request sounded like Admiral Byrd. I thought it was the Air Corps having its joke and I was already to say “O.K. – cut it out, who do you want?” Before I had the chance the voice said “Byrd – B-Y-R-D” and just then the regular clerk returned and took the call. He said – “wait a minute” – and went upstairs. In 2 seconds, darling, he came down – and yes – following him – was Admiral Byrd! It wouldn’t have taken much to knock me over. Admiral Byrd here in Belgium on a Sunday p.m.! Well – he spoke for a couple of minutes and then when he finished – he walked over to where we were standing – at attention – and said – “That was General ––”. (I’d better not write the name.) That was the payoff, sweetheart, for I had come very close to telling a pretty important General to stop kidding around and get down to business. Well – I‘ve had some funny experiences, but that one goes down as among the strangest.
Incidentally, the Admiral continued to talk with us for about 5 minutes. He noticed that I was in the Medical Corps and asked me about the Evacuation of patients, etc. And then he went off and we scrammed!
In the late p.m. we met an Engineer – also on a pass. He was somewhat of a screwball but good fun and the 3 of us went around from café to café drinking beer. I almost forgot to tell you, dear. After Byrd left – we stood around for awhile and as we took off – a small dog - ½ chow ½ Pekinese started following us. Well he followed us all day, down to the Officer’s mess, into the bars etc. So we kept him – or her, rather, and despite the sex – I named her Admiral. We’ve still got it and we’ll probably take it back with us.
|Greg with Admiral in Belgium|
Today, dear, it has been raining and we’ve just lolled around taking it easy. We’ll probably see a movie in the evening. It’s quite a change from the damned artillery and all that goes with it.
So darling, that’s all for now. I sure could do with you – right here – although I could do with you anytime – as far as that goes. I miss you loads wherever I happen to be and always shall. For now, dear, so long, love to the folks – and
|Admiral Byrd, 1947|
Rear Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd, Jr., United States Navy (25 October 1888 – 11 March 1957) was a naval officer who specialized in feats of exploration. He was a pioneering American aviator, polar explorer, and organizer of polar logistics.
Byrd was a descendant of one of the First Families of Virginia. His ancestors include planter John Rolfe and his wife Pocahontas, William Byrd II of Westover Plantation, who established Richmond, and Robert "King" Carter, a colonial governor. He was the brother of Virginia Governor and U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd, a dominant figure in Virginia Democratic Party between the 1920s and 1960s; their father served as Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates for a time. Byrd attended the Virginia Military Institute before financial circumstances inspired his transfer to the United States Naval Academy in 1912. He learned to fly in World War I during his tour with the United States Navy. He developed a passion for flight, and pioneered many techniques for navigating airplanes over the open ocean.
In 1927 non-stop flights across the Atlantic Ocean had not yet been accomplished, and Byrd joined the race to make it happen. However, during a practice takeoff with Tony Fokker at the controls and Bennett in the co-pilots seat, the Fokker Trimotor airplane, America, crashed, severely injuring Bennett and slightly injuring Byrd. As the plane was being repaired, Charles Lindbergh won the prize. But Byrd continued with his quest, and with three others flew from New York on 29 June 1927 to the coast of Normandy, crash-landing near the beach at Ver-sur-Mer, France, without fatalities on 1 July 1927.
The next year, Admiral Byrd began his first expedition to the Antarctic involving two ships, and three airplanes. A base camp named "Little America" was constructed on the Ross Ice Shelf and scientific expeditions by snowshoe, dog-sled, snowmobile, and airplane began. Photographic expeditions and geological surveys were undertaken for the duration of that summer, and constant radio communications were maintained with the outside world. After their first winter, their expeditions were resumed, and on 28 November 1929, the famous flight to the South Pole and back was launched. Byrd, along with pilot Bernt Balchen, co-pilot/radioman Harold June, and photographer Ashley McKinley, flew the Ford Trimotor to the South Pole and back in 18 hours, 41 minutes. After a further summer of exploration, the expedition returned to North America on 18 June 1930.
|Byrd's Ship, 1930|
On his second expedition, in 1934, Byrd spent five winter months alone operating a meteorological station, Advance Base, from which he narrowly escaped with his life after suffering carbon monoxide poisoning from a poorly ventilated stove. Unusual radio transmissions from Byrd finally began to alarm the men at the base camp, who then attempted to go to Advance Base. The first two trips were failures due to darkness, snow, and mechanical troubles. Finally, Dr. Thomas Poulter, E.J. Demas, and Amory Waite arrived at Advanced Base, where they found Byrd in poor physical health. The men remained at Advanced Base until 12 October when an airplane from the base camp picked up Dr. Poulter and Byrd.
In late 1938, Byrd visited Hamburg and was invited to participate in the 1938/1939 German "Neuschwabenland" Antarctic Expedition, but declined. Instead, Byrd's third expedition was his first to have the official backing of the U.S. government. The project included extensive studies of geology, biology, meteorology and exploration. Within a few months, in March 1940, Byrd was recalled to active duty in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. The expedition continued in Antarctica without him. From 1942 to 1945 he headed important missions to the Pacific, including surveys of remote islands for airfields. On one assignment he visited the fighting front in Europe. It was on this assignment that he chatted with Greg in the lobby of a hotel in Belgium.
The fourth culminating expedition, Operation Highjump, was the largest Antarctic expedition to date. In 1946, US Navy Secretary James Forrestal assembled a huge amphibious naval force for an Antarctic Expedition expected to last six to eight months. Besides the flagship USS Mount Olympus and the aircraft carrier USS Philippine Sea, there were thirteen US Navy support ships, six helicopters, six flying boats, two seaplane tenders and fifteen other aircraft. The total number of personnel involved was over 4,000. The armada arrived in the Ross Sea on 31 December 1946, and made aerial explorations of an area half the size of the United States, recording ten new mountain ranges. The major area covered was the eastern coastline of Antarctica from 150 degrees east to the Greenwich meridian.
As part of the multinational collaboration for the International Geophysical Year 1957–58, Byrd commanded the U.S. Navy Operation Deep Freeze I in 1955–56, which established permanent Antarctic bases at McMurdo Sound, the Bay of Whales, and the South Pole. Byrd died in his sleep on 11 March 1957 at his Brimmer Street home in Boston. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.