A Sailor's Story: Rear Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd Jr


Rear Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd was born in Winchester, Virginia, on October 25, 1888. He attended the Shenandoah Valley Military Academy and the Virginia Military Institute before accepting an appointment to the US Naval Academy in Annapolis. 

While at the Naval Academy, Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd played football and was on the gymnastics team. Unfortunately, he also sustained a severe ankle injury that would plague him his entire career. Rear Admiral Byrd graduated from the academy in 1912.

He was assigned to the US Wyoming, where he earned his first valor award by rescuing a sailor who had fallen overboard. Next, rear Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd was assigned to the USS Washington and then to the USS Dolphin while the boats patrolled the Gulf of Mexico in the years leading up to the Mexican Expedition. He was then assigned to the USS Mayflower, where he suffered another ankle injury and was medically retired from active duty.

Rear Admiral Byrd remained in the Naval Reserves and was assigned to the Rhode Island Naval Militia as an instructor and inspector. After the US entry into World War I, he returned to active duty and oversaw the Rhode Island Naval Militia deployment.

In 1918, Rear Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd attended Naval Aviation School at Pensacola, graduating in June, and then took command of US Naval forces in Halifax, Nova Scotia, until the World War I armistice in November.

After World War I, Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd volunteered for but did not fly several of the US Navy's transatlantic aviation attempts and was assigned to the ZR-2 Airship mission. However, Rear Admiral Byrd missed the train and was not aboard when the Airship broke up over Hull and killed 44 of the 49 men aboard. 

In 1923, Rear Admiral Byrd helped found the Naval Reserve Airstation near Boston and, in 1925, commanded the aviation unit during the Arctic expedition to Greenland.

On May 9, 1925, Rear Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd earned a Congressional Medal of Honor when he and Warrant Officer Floyd Bennett attempted to fly over the North Pole in a flight that lasted almost 16 hours and circled what was thought to be the North Pole (modern research suggests their navigation may have been slightly off) for a quarter of an hour. 

In 1927, Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd again attempted a transatlantic crossing for the Orteig Prize, but his aircraft crashed, and the prize went to Charles Lindburgh. However, he successfully completed a transatlantic flight on July 1, 1927, landing in Ver-Sur-Mer, after cloud cover prevented a landing in Paris. Rear Admiral Richard E Byrd wrote an article about his flight and the feasibility of commercial transatlantic flights for the August 1927 issue of Popular Science. 

Rear Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd began his Antarctic explorations in 1928. During his first expedition, he completed the first flight to the South Pole from the Ross Ice Shelf, reaching the pole on November 28, 1929. He briefly returned to the US in 1930 and won a gold medal from the American Geographic Society with the short film "Byrd at the South Pole."

Rear Admiral Byrd returned to the South Pole in 1934 and spent several months alone manning a meteorological station called Advance Base. During that expedition, he nearly succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning from a malfunctioning stove. Rear Admiral Byrd wrote about his time at Advance Base in the book "Alone." A US postage stamp was also made to commemorate the event, and KF2, a CBS affiliate, set up a radio station at the base camp and broadcasted "The Adventures of Admiral Byrd" to a US audience.   He was also invited to participate in, but declined, a joint Antarctic exploration mission with Nazi Germany.

In 1939, Rear Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd was again in the Antarctic with the United States Antarctic Service Expedition but left in early 1940 for an assignment with the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations as the US began to prepare for World War II.  

Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd's next assignment was touring and inspecting naval bases and ships in the South Pacific. He was on board the USS Concord in 1943 when fumes from the fuel source ignited, causing an explosion that killed 24 sailors.  

Through the end of World War II, Rear Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd was assigned to the US Strategic Bombing Survey and was in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945, when World War II ended in the Pacific.

Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd retired from the US Navy in October 1945. 

He returned to work almost immediately, leaving for the Antarctic again in 1946 as the officer in charge of Operation High Jump. This US-led expedition surveyed the eastern coast of Antarctica and recorded 10 new mountain ranges on the continent. He returned to the US in 1947 and, with the US Navy, helped produce the documentary "The Secret Land," which won an Academy Award in 1948 for best documentary.

Rear Admiral Byrd appeared on the television show "Longines Chronoscope" in 1954 and discussed the importance of the Antarctic to science and research before embarking to the South Pole for a final expedition in 1955 called Operation Deep Freeze I, which established the permanent base at McMurdo Sound. 

Rear Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd was also active with the Freemasons, The Explorer's Club, the American Legion, The National Geographic Society, and the Sons of the American Revolution.

He died in his sleep on March 11, 1957, and rests at Arlington National Cemetery.


a.d. elliott is a wanderer, writer, and photographer currently living in Salem, Virginia. 

In addition to the travel writings at www.takethebackroads.com, you can also read her book reviews at www.riteoffancy.com and US military biographies at www.everydaypatriot.com

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