9 hours ago
Monday, October 25, 2010
I have contracted an adult onset fascination with early 20th century polar exploration. For the most part, polar exploration was a British and Norwegian game, Shackleton and Scott carried the flag for Great Britain while the Norwegian, Roald Amundsen did the heavy lifting, beating the Brits to the South Pole.
The US kept out of the race to the poles. Europeans had such a head start before WW 1 began, that on the ground treks were not fashionable. Americans, most noticably, Richard Byrd, changed the game by attempting to be the first to fly over the poles.
Today's birthday boy, Rear Admiral Richard Byrd claimed to be the first to fly over the North Pole and South Poles. For his flight over the North Pole (May 1926), he was awarded the US Medal of Honor.
There was but one problem. Byrd never made it over the North Pole. He doctored his flight log to make it appear he made it. He dead reckoned accurately, but only covered 80% of the required distance before mechanical concerns made him turn around. As Scott learned in the Antarctic, close doesn't count. Byrd's secret wasn't uncovered until 1996.
After receiving the Medal of Honor, Byrd used his notoriety to raise funds for further polar exploration, his successful flight over the South Pole, and 3 subsequent trips.
Should one ethical lapse in an otherwise remarkable career taint a man's reputation forever? I think not. Perhaps his shame drove him to accomplish more than he otherwise may have. We'll never know.