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Richard E. Byrd

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Title: Richard E. Byrd  
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Subject: Version 1.0 Editorial Team/Virginia articles by quality log, WikiProject Virginia/Assessment, McMurdo Station, Southern Ocean, History of Antarctica
Collection: 1888 Births, 1957 Deaths, 20Th-Century Explorers, American Aviators, American Episcopalians, American Oceanographers, American People of Native American Descent, American Polar Explorers, American Polar Society Honorary Members, Aviators from Virginia, Burials at Arlington National Cemetery, Byrd Family of Virginia, Congressional Gold Medal Recipients, Discovery and Invention Controversies, Explorers of Antarctica, National Aviation Hall of Fame Inductees, Non-Combat Recipients of the Medal of Honor, People from Winchester, Virginia, Recipients of the Distinguished Flying Cross (United States), Recipients of the Gold Lifesaving Medal, Recipients of the Langley Medal, Recipients of the Legion of Merit, Recipients of the Navy Cross (United States), Recipients of the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, Tiffany Cross Medal of Honor Recipients, United States and the Antarctic, United States Naval Academy Alumni, United States Naval Aviators, United States Navy Admirals, United States Navy Medal of Honor Recipients, United States Navy Rear Admirals (Upper Half), United States Navy World War II Admirals, University of Virginia Alumni, University of Virginia People, Virginia Military Institute Alumni
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Richard E. Byrd

Richard E. Byrd
Medal of Honor
Byrd in 1928
Birth name Richard Evelyn Byrd, Jr.
Born (1888-10-25)October 25, 1888
Winchester, Virginia
Died March 11, 1957(1957-03-11) (aged 68)
Boston, Massachusetts
Place of burial Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch  United States Navy
Years of service 1912—1927
Rank Rear Admiral
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
Awards Medal of Honor
Navy Cross
Navy Distinguished Service Medal
Distinguished Flying Cross
Legion of Merit
Congressional Gold Medal

navigator and expedition leader, crossed the Atlantic Ocean, a segment of the Arctic Ocean, and a segment of the Antarctic Plateau. Byrd claimed that his expeditions had been the first to reach the North Pole and the South Pole by air. However, the majority of polar experts are now of the opinion that Roald Amundsen has the first verifiable claim to each pole.[1][2] Byrd was a recipient of the Medal of Honor, the highest honor for valor given by the United States.


  • Ancestry 1
  • Family 2
    • Richard E. Byrd III 2.1
  • Education 3
  • Early naval career 4
  • First World War 5
  • Post war 6
  • 1926 North Pole flight, and controversy 7
  • Trans-Atlantic flight, 1927 8
  • First Antarctic expedition, 1928–1930 9
  • Byrd's later Antarctic expeditions and World War II service 10
    • Second Antarctic Expedition 10.1
    • Antarctic Service Expedition (1939-1940) 10.2
    • World War II 10.3
    • Operation Highjump (1946-1947) 10.4
    • Operation Deep Freeze I (1955-1956) 10.5
  • Freemasonry 11
  • Death 12
  • Exotic beliefs about Admiral Byrd 13
  • Honors 14
  • Military Awards 15
    • Decorations and medals 15.1
    • Medal of Honor citation 15.2
    • Navy Cross citation 15.3
    • 1st Distinguished Service Medal citation 15.4
    • 2nd Distinguished Service Medal citation 15.5
    • 1st Legion of Merit citation 15.6
    • 2nd Legion of Merit citation 15.7
    • Distinguished Flying Cross citation 15.8
    • Letter of Commendation 15.9
  • Dates of rank 16
  • Further reading 17
  • See also 18
  • Bibliography 19
  • References 20


He was the son of Esther Bolling (Flood) and Richard Evelyn Byrd, Sr. He 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.


Admiral Byrd was married, on January 20, 1915, to the former Marie Donaldson Ames (d. 1974). His father-in-law, a wealthy industrialist, purchased a large brownstone, in Boston's fashionable Beacon Hill neighborhood, at 9 Brimmer Street,[3] for the couple in 1917. It would be Byrd's primary residence for the rest of his life. Noted naval historian Samuel Elliot Morison also lived on Brimmer Street.

Byrd named a region of Antarctic land he discovered "Marie Byrd Land" after his wife. They had four children:

  • Richard Evelyn III, (grandchildren Richard Byrd, Leverett S. Byrd, Ames Byrd, and Harry Flood Byrd II)
  • Evelyn Bolling Byrd Clarke (grandchildren Evelyn Byrd Clarke, Marie Ames Clarke, Eleanor Clarke, and Richard Byrd Clarke)
  • Catherine Agnes Byrd Breyer (grandchildren Robert Byrd Breyer and Katherine Ames Breyer)
  • Helen Byrd Stabler (grandchildren David Stabler and Ann Blanchard Stabler)

Richard E. Byrd III

Byrd's only son, Richard Evelyn Byrd III (usually referred to as Richard E. Byrd, Jr.) was born in 1920. He was a graduate of Milton Academy and Harvard College. During World War II he was commissioned an ensign in the Naval Reserve on April 6, 1942 and was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) on January 1, 1944. He was promoted to lieutenant by the war's end and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander in the Naval Reserve after the war. He accompanied his father on Operation Highjump in 1946. In 1948, he married Emily Saltonstall (d. 2006), the daughter of longtime Massachusetts Senator Leverett Saltonstall. They divorced in 1960. He had five children and six grandchildren.

He died in early October 1988 at the age of 68. His body was found in a warehouse in Baltimore, Maryland. He had gone missing on September 13, 1988 after being placed on a train in Boston bound for Washington, D.C. Byrd was supposed to attend an event at the National Geographic Society honoring his father's 100th birthday, but never arrived. He was buried, like his father, in Arlington National Cemetery.[4]


Byrd attended the Virginia Military Institute for two years and spent one year at the University of Virginia before financial circumstances inspired his transfer to the United States Naval Academy, where he was appointed Midshipman on May 28, 1908.[5] While at the Academy, he severely injured his right ankle while performing a gymnastics routine. While he was able to graduate from the Academy, the injured ankle was the reason for his medical retirement from the Navy in 1916.

Early naval career

On June 8, 1912, Byrd graduated from the Naval Academy and was commissioned an ensign in the United States Navy. On July 14, 1912 he was assigned to the battleship USS Wyoming and was later assigned to the battleship USS Mississippi and the gunboat USS Dolphin.[6] While serving on board Dolphin he made the acquaintance of future Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt, who used Dolphin for transportation.

On March 15, 1916 he was medically retired, for a foot injury he suffered on board the Dolphin and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant (junior grade) and assigned as the Inspector and Instructor for the Rhode Island Naval Militia in Providence, Rhode Island.[7]

First World War

Although technically retired, Byrd was able to serve as a retired officer on active duty during the First World War. He took flying lessons and earned his pilot wings in August 1917. He developed a passion for flight, and pioneered many techniques for navigating airplanes over the open ocean including drift indicators and bubble sextants.

During the First World War, Byrd was assigned to the Office of Naval Operations and served as secretary and organizer of the Navy Department Commission on Training Camps and trained men in aviation at the aviation ground school in Pensacola, Florida. He then commanded naval air forces at Naval Air Station Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada from July 1918 until the armistice in November.[8]

He was promoted to lieutenant on September 2, 1918 and to temporary lieutenant commander on September 21, 1918.

Post war

After the war, Byrd's expertise in aerial navigation resulted in his appointment to plan the flight path for the U.S. Navy's 1919 transatlantic crossing. Of the three flying boats that attempted it, only Albert Read's NC-4 aircraft completed the trip, becoming the first ever transatlantic flight.[9]

He commanded the aviation unit of the arctic expedition to North Greenland led by Donald B. MacMillan from June to October 1925.[8] This position gave Byrd an appreciation for the benefits aircraft could bring to Arctic exploration. As a result, he employed aircraft in all of his future expeditions.

1926 North Pole flight, and controversy

On May 9, 1926, Byrd and pilot Floyd Bennett attempted a flight over the North Pole in a Fokker F-VII Tri-motor monoplane named Josephine Ford, after the daughter of Ford Motor Company president Edsel Ford, who helped finance the expedition. This flight went from Spitsbergen (Svalbard) and back to its take-off airfield. The distance covered was 1,360 miles in fifteen-and-a-half hours. Byrd claimed to have reached the Pole. This trip earned Byrd widespread acclaim, including being awarded the Medal of Honor and enabled him to secure funding for subsequent attempts to fly over the South Pole.

The Fokker F.VII of Byrd and Bennett in flight.

From 1926 until 1996, there were doubts, defenses, and heated controversy about whether or not Byrd actually reached the North Pole. In 1958 Norwegian-American aviator and explorer Bernt Balchen cast doubt on Byrd's claim on the basis of his extensive personal knowledge of the airplane's speed. In 1971 Balchen speculated that Byrd had simply circled aimlessly while out of sight of land.[10] During his lifetime, Floyd Bennett, the pilot on the trip, never contested that they hadn't reached the pole. (Bennett died on April 25, 1928 during a heroic flight to rescue downed aviators in Greenland.) Bennett would not have been able to dispute the claim, however, as there were no discernible landmarks in the polar region and Byrd had made all the navigational calculations. Simply put, the barren vicinity that the Josephine Ford reached was considered at the time the geographical North Pole, rather than the pinpoint North Pole.

The 1996 release of Byrd's diary of the May 9, 1926 flight revealed erased (but still legible) sextant sights that sharply differ with Byrd's later June 22 typewritten official report to the National Geographic Society. Byrd took a sextant reading of the Sun at 7:07:10 GCT. His erased diary record shows the apparent (observed) solar altitude to have been 19°25'30", while his later official typescript reports the same 7:07:10 apparent solar altitude to have been 18°18'18".[11] On the basis of this and other data in the diary, Dennis Rawlins concluded that Byrd steered accurately, and flew about eighty percent of the distance to the Pole before turning back because of an engine oil leak, but later falsified his official report to support his claim of reaching the pole.[12] Others disagree with Rawlins. In 1998, Colonel William Molett, an experienced navigator published Due north?; Molett maintained that Rawlins had put too much significance in erased navigational calculations which can be explained by any number of other reasons, including favorable windspeeds as well as simple human error due to lack of sleep and stress.[13]

The Fokker FVIIa/3M – "Josephine Ford", on display at The Henry Ford Museum

Accepting that the conflicting data in the typed report's flight times indeed require both northward and southward groundspeeds greater than the flight's eighty-five mph airspeed, a remaining Byrd defender posits a westerly-moving anti-cyclone that tailwind-boosted Byrd's groundspeed on both outward and inward legs, allowing the distance claimed to be covered in the time claimed (the theory is based on rejecting handwritten sextant data in favor of typewritten alleged dead-reckoning data[14]). This suggestion has been refuted by Dennis Rawlins[15] who adds[16] that the sextant data in the long unavailable original official typewritten report are all expressed to 1", a precision not possible on Navy sextants of 1926 and not the precision of the sextant data in Byrd's diary for 1925 or the 1926 flight, which was normal (half or quarter of a minute of arc). Some sources claim that Floyd Bennett and Byrd later revealed, in private conversations, that they did not reach the pole. One source claims that Floyd Bennett later told a fellow pilot that they did not reach the pole.[17] It is also claimed that Byrd confessed his failure to reach the North Pole during a long walk with Dr. Isaiah Bowman in 1930.[18]

If Byrd and Bennett did not reach the North Pole, it is extremely likely that the first flight over the Pole occurred a few days later, on May 12, 1926 with the flight of the airship Roald Amundsen, Umberto Nobile, Oscar Wisting, and others. This flight went from Spitsbergen (Svalbard) to Alaska nonstop, so there is little doubt that they went over the North Pole. Amundsen and Wisting had both been members of the first expedition to the South Pole in December 1911. The first human beings to undoubtedly set foot on the North Pole ice were the participants of the Soviet Sever 2 expedition in 1948, although some Western sources award this distinction to that of Joseph O. Fletcher who reached the pole in 1952. In both instances aircraft were actually landed on the ice before the passengers disembarked to visit the pole itself.

When he returned to the United States from the Arctic, Byrd became a national hero. Congress passed a special action on December 21, 1926 promoting him to the rank of commander and awarding him and Floyd Bennett the Medal of Honor.[19] Byrd and Bennett were presented with Tiffany Cross versions of the Medal of Honor on March 5, 1927 at the White House by President Calvin Coolidge.[20]

The book, Oceans Poles and Airmen by Richard Montague tells of a confession by Floyd Bennett to Bernt Balchen in the Congress Hotel in Chicago - the confession finally says..."but he finally ordered me to fly back and forth and this is what we did till he told me to return to Kings Bay. We flew back and forth for fourteen hours."

Trans-Atlantic flight, 1927

Lt. Com. Byrd and aircraft

In 1927 Byrd announced he had the backing of the 'American Trans-Oceanic Company, Inc.', which was established in 1914 by Rodman Wanamaker with the purpose of building the aircraft to complete the journey. Byrd was one of several aviators who attempted to win the Orteig Prize in 1927 for making the first nonstop flight between the United States and France. His flight was sponsored by department-store magnate Rodman Wanamaker, an early visionary of Trans-Atlantic commercial flight.

Once again Byrd named Floyd Bennett as his chief pilot, with support from Fokker Trimotor airplane, America, crashed, severely injuring Bennett and slightly injuring Byrd. As the plane was being repaired, Charles Lindbergh won the prize by completing his historic flight on May 21, 1927. (Coincidentally, in 1925, Army Air Service Reserve Corps Lieutenant Lindbergh had applied to serve as a pilot on Byrd's North Pole expedition, but apparently his bid came too late.)[21] But Byrd continued with his quest, naming Balchen to replace Bennett as chief pilot. Byrd, Balchen, Acosta, and Noville flew from Roosevelt Field East Garden City, New York on June 29, 1927. Arriving over France, cloud cover prevented a landing in Paris; they returned to the coast of Normandy, crash-landing near the beach at Ver-sur-Mer without fatalities on July 1, 1927.[22]

Byrd was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for this flight. Byrd was not awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his flight to the North Pole notwithstanding a number of sources which state that he was.

After he returned to the US, Byrd wrote an article for the August 1927 edition of Popular Science Monthly in which he predicted that while specially modified aircraft with one to three crewmen would fly the Atlantic non-stop, it would be another 20 years before it would be realized on a commercial scale.[23]

First Antarctic expedition, 1928–1930

Byrd's expedition

In 1928, Byrd began his first expedition to the Antarctic involving two ships, and three airplanes: Byrd's Flagship was The City of New York (a Norwegian sealing ship previously named Samson that had come into fame as a ship in the vicinity of the RMS Titanic when the latter was sinking); a Ford Trimotor called the Floyd Bennett (named after the recently deceased pilot of Byrd's previous expeditions); a Fairchild FC-2W2, NX8006, built 1928, named "Stars And Stripes" (now displayed at the Virginia Aviation Museum, on loan from the National Air and Space Museum); and a Fokker Universal monoplane called the Virginia (Byrd's birth state). 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 November 28, 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. They had difficulty gaining enough altitude, and they had to dump empty gas tanks, as well as their emergency supplies, in order to achieve the altitude of the Polar Plateau. However, the flight was successful, and it entered Byrd into the history books.

As a result of his fame, Byrd was promoted to the rank of rear admiral by a special act of Congress on December 21, 1929. As he was only 41 years old at the time, this promotion made Byrd the youngest admiral in the history of the United States Navy.[24] (Note - Some sources claim that the distinction of being the youngest admiral in the history of the US Navy belongs to Elmo Zumwalt but Zumwalt was 44 years old at the time of his promotion to rear admiral.)

After a further summer of exploration, the expedition returned to North America on June 18, 1930. A 19-year-old American Boy Scout, Paul Allman Siple, was chosen to accompany the expedition. Unlike the 1926 flight, this expedition was honored with the gold medal of the American Geographical Society. This was also seen in the film With Byrd at the South Pole (1930) which covered his trip there.

Byrd, by then an internationally recognized, pioneering American polar explorer and aviator, served for a time as Honorary National President (1931–1935) of Pi Gamma Mu, the international honor society in the social sciences. In 1928, he carried the Society's flag during a historic expedition to the Antarctic to dramatize the spirit of adventure into the unknown, characterizing both the natural and social sciences.[25][26]

Byrd's later Antarctic expeditions and World War II service

Admiral Byrd (circa 1955)

Byrd undertook four more expeditions to Antarctica from 1933–35, 1939–40, 1946–47 and 1955–56.

Second Antarctic Expedition

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, 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 October 12 when an airplane from the base camp picked up Dr. Poulter and Byrd. The rest of the men returned to base camp with the tractor. This expedition is described by Byrd in his autobiography Alone. It is also commemorated in a U.S. postage stamp issued at the time, and a considerable amount of mail using it was sent from Byrd's base at Little America, which was powered by a Jacobs Wind 2.5 kW. Later a souvenir sheet was also issued.[27]

Byrd Antarctic expedition Commemorative Issue of 1933

In late 1938, Byrd visited Hamburg and was invited to participate in the 1938/1939 German "Neuschwabenland" Antarctic Expedition, but declined.

Antarctic Service Expedition (1939-1940)

Byrd's third expedition was his first one on which he had 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.

World War II

As a senior officer in the United States Navy, Byrd, performed national defense service during World War II (1941–45), mostly as the confidential Advisor to the Commander in Chief, United States Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Ernest J. King. 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.

On February 10, 1945 Byrd received the Order of Christopher Columbus from the government of Santo Domingo.[28] Byrd was present at the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945.

In recognition of his service during World War II, Byrd was twice awarded the Legion of Merit.[29]

Operation Highjump (1946-1947)

Cover of Byrd's Autobiography

In 1946, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal appointed Byrd as officer in charge of Antarctic Developments Project. Byrd's fourth Antarctic expedition was codenamed Operation Highjump. It was the largest Antarctic expedition to date and was expected to last six to eight months.

The expedition was supported by a large naval force (designated Task Force 68), commanded by Rear Admiral Richard H. Cruzen. 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 December 31, 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.

Admiral Byrd in an interview with Lee van Atta of International News Service aboard the expeditions command ship, the USS Mount Olympus, discussed the lessons learned from the operation. The interview appeared in the Wednesday, edition of March 5, 1947 of the Chilean newspaper El Mercurio, and read in part as follows:

Admiral Richard E. Byrd warned today that the United States should adopt measures of protection against the possibility of an invasion of the country by hostile planes coming from the polar regions. The admiral explained that he was not trying to scare anyone, but the cruel reality is that in case of a new war, the United States could be attacked by planes flying over one or both poles. This statement was made as part of a recapitulation of his own polar experience, in an exclusive interview with International News Service. Talking about the recently completed expedition, Byrd said that the most important result of his observations and discoveries is the potential effect that they have in relation to the security of the United States. The fantastic speed with which the world is shrinking – recalled the admiral – is one of the most important lessons learned during his recent Antarctic exploration. I have to warn my compatriots that the time has ended when we were able to take refuge in our isolation and rely on the certainty that the distances, the oceans, and the poles were a guarantee of safety.[30][31]

A motion picture based on the various stories surrounding the operation, "Highjump" by Christopher Brand, is currently in development.

Operation Deep Freeze I (1955-1956)

As part of the multinational collaboration for the International Geophysical Year (IGY) 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. This was Byrd's last trip to Antarctica and would mark the beginning of a permanent U.S. military presence in Antarctica. Byrd spent only one week in the Antarctic and started his return to the United States on February 3, 1956.[32]


Byrd was an active Freemason. He became a member of Federal Lodge No. 1, Washington, D.C. on March 19, 1921 and affiliated with Kane Lodge No. 454, New York City, September 18, 1928. He was a member of National Sojourners Chapter No. 3 at Washington. He and his pilot, Bernt Balchen dropped Masonic flags on the two poles —Balchen also added his Shrine fez. In the Antarctic expedition of 1933—1935, sixty of the eighty-two members were Freemasons and on February 5, 1935 established First Antarctic Lodge No. 777 of New Zealand constitution.


Byrd died in his sleep on March 11, 1957 of a heart ailment at his Brimmer Street home in the Beacon Hill neighborhood in Boston.[33][34] He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.[33]

Exotic beliefs about Admiral Byrd

Some adherents to the Hollow Earth hypothesis believe that Byrd flew over the South Pole and into the hollow earth in February 1947 and that he kept a secret diary[35] of the incident. This belief was first published in 1957 in F. Amadeo Giannini's book The Worlds Beyond the Poles. Giannini writes that Byrd encountered a humanoid being from another "world" who warned humanity to pursue peace and not war. He also reported that Byrd spotted a living wooly mammoth near the South Pole.


Bust of Richard E. Byrd by Felix de Weldon at McMurdo Station.

By the time he died, he had amassed twenty-two citations and special commendations, nine of which were for bravery and two for extraordinary heroism in saving the lives of others. In addition, he received the Medal of Honor, the Silver Lifesaving Medal, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Navy Cross, and had three ticker-tape parades.

Byrd was one of only four Americans in history entitled to wear a medal with their own image on it. The others were Admiral John J. Pershing and Admiral William T. Sampson. As Byrd's image is on both the first and second Byrd Antarctic Expedition medals, he was the only American entitled to wear two medals with his own image on them.

In 1927, the Kermit Roosevelt; Carl Rungius; Stewart Edward White; Orville Wright.[36]
Byrd Memorial on Mount Victoria, Wellington, New Zealand
Also in 1927, the City of Richmond dedicated the Richard Evelyn Byrd Flying Field, now Richmond International Airport, in Henrico County, Virginia. Byrd's Fairchild FC-2W2, NX8006, "Stars And Stripes" is on display at the Virginia Aviation Museum located on the north side of the airport, on loan from the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. He was a 1929 recipient of the Langley Gold Medal from the Smithsonian Institution.

In 1931, Byrd joined the Tennessee Society of the Sons of the American Revolution.

Lunar crater Byrd is named after him, as was the United States Navy dry cargo ship USNS Richard E. Byrd (T-AKE-4) and the now decommissioned Charles F. Adams-class guided missile destroyer USS Richard E. Byrd (DDG-23)

In Glen Rock, New Jersey Richard E. Byrd School was dedicated in 1931. On March 31, 1934, during a regularly scheduled broadcast, Admiral Richard E. Byrd was awarded the CBS Medal for Distinguished Contribution to Radio. Byrd’s short wave relay broadcasts, from his second Antarctic expedition, established a new chapter of communication history. Byrd was the sixth individual to receive this award.[37] The Institute of Polar Studies at The Ohio State University officially changed its name to the Byrd Polar Research Center (BPRC) on January 21, 1987 after it acquired Admiral Richard E. Byrd’s expeditionary records, personal papers and other memorabilia in 1985 from the estate of Marie A. Byrd, the late wife of Admiral Byrd. His papers served as the nucleus for establishment of the BPRC Polar Archival Program in 1990. In 1958 the Richard Byrd library, part of the Fairfax County Public Library system opened in Springfield, Virginia. Admiral Richard E. Byrd Middle School, located in Frederick County, Virginia, was opened in 2005, and is decorated with pictures and letters from Byrd's life and career.

Richard E. Byrd Elementary School, a Department of Defense School located in Negishi (Yokohama, Japan) opened on September 20, 1948. The name was changed to R.E. Byrd Elementary School on April 5, 1960.

Memorials to Byrd can be found in two cities in New Zealand (Wellington and Dunedin). Byrd used New Zealand as his departure point for several of his Antarctic flights.

The fiftieth anniversary of Byrd's first flight over the South Pole was commemorated in a set of two postage stamps by Australian Antarctic Territory in 1979.

The long-range shortwave voice transmissions from Byrd's Antarctic expedition in 1934 was named an IEEE Milestone in 2001.[38]

Military Awards

Admiral Byrd was one of the most highly decorated officers in the history of the Navy. He is possibly the only individual to receive the Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross and the Silver Life Saving Medal. He also was one of a very few individuals to receive all three Antarctic expedition medals issued for expeditions prior to the Second World War.

Decorations and medals

Gold star
Gold star
Gold star
Gold star
Silver star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Naval Aviator Badge
1st Row Medal of Honor
2nd Row Navy Cross
Navy Distinguished Service Medal
with award star
(1926, 1941)
Legion of Merit
with award star
(1943, 1945)
3rd Row Distinguished Flying Cross
Navy Commendation Medal
with two award stars
Silver Lifesaving Medal
4th Row Byrd Antarctic Expedition Medal
issued in Gold
Second Byrd Antarctic
Expedition Medal

United States Antarctic
Expedition Medal

issued in Gold
5th Row World War I Victory Medal
with commendation star
and two campaign clasps
American Defense Service Medal
with service star
European-African-Middle Eastern
Campaign Medal

with battle star
6th Row Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
with two battle stars
World War II Victory Medal
Commander of the Legion of Honor
(1931, France)

Note - Admiral Byrd was posthumously eligible for the Antarctic Service Medal which was established in 1960 for his participation in the Antarctic expeditions in 1946 to 1947 and from 1955 to 1956.

Note - Byrd also received several international orders as well as numerous awards from government and private entities in the United States.

Medal of Honor citation

Rank and organization: Commander, United States Navy. Born: October 25, 1888, Winchester, Va. Appointed from: Virginia. Other Navy awards: Navy Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit with gold star, Distinguished Flying Cross.

For distinguishing himself conspicuously by courage and intrepidity at the risk of his life, in demonstrating that it is possible for aircraft to travel in continuous flight from a now inhabited portion of the earth over the North Pole and return.

Byrd, along with Machinist Floyd Bennett, was presented with the Medal of Honor by President Coolidge on March 5, 1927.

Navy Cross citation

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Rear Admiral Richard Evenly Byrd, Jr. (NSN: 0-7918), United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism in the line of his profession as Commanding Officer of the Byrd Antarctic Expedition I, in that on November 28, 1929 he took off in his "Floyd Bennett" from the Expedition's base at Little America, Antarctica and, after a flight made under the most difficult conditions he reached the South Pole on November 29, 1929. After flying some distance beyond this point he returned to his base at Little America. This hazardous flight was made under extreme conditions of cold, over ranges and plateaus extending nine to ten thousand feet above sea level and beyond probable rescue of personnel had a forced landing occurred. Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd, U.S.N, Retired, was in command of this flight, navigated the airplane, made the mandatory preparations for the flight, and through his untiring energy, superior leadership, and excellent judgment the flight was brought to a successful conclusion.

1st Distinguished Service Medal citation

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Distinguished Service Medal to Commander Richard Evenly Byrd, Jr. (NSN: 0-7918), United States Navy, for exceptionally meritorious and distinguished service in a position of great responsibility to the Government of the United States, in demonstrating, by his courage and professional ability that heavier-than-air craft could in continuous flight travel to the North Pole and return. General Orders: Letter Dated August 6, 1926

2nd Distinguished Service Medal citation

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting a Gold Star in lieu of a Second Award of the Navy Distinguished Service Medal to Rear Admiral Richard Evenly Byrd, Jr. (NSN: 0-7918), United States Navy, for exceptionally meritorious and distinguished service in a position of great responsibility to the Government of the United States as Commanding Officer of the U.S. Antarctic Service. Rear Admiral Byrd did much toward the difficult task of organizing the expedition, which was accomplished in one fourth of the time generally necessary for such undertakings. In spite of a short operating season, he established two Antarctic bases 1,500 miles apart, where valuable scientific and economic investigations are now being carried on. With the U.S.S. BEAR, he penetrated unknown and dangerous seas where important discoveries were made; in addition to which he made four noteworthy flights, resulting in the discovery of new mountain ranges, islands, more than a hundred thousand square miles of area, a peninsula and 700 miles of hitherto unknown stretches of the Antarctic coast. The operations of the Antarctic Service have been a credit to the Government of the United States. His qualities of leadership and unselfish devotion to duty are in accordance with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

1st Legion of Merit citation

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Legion of Merit to Rear Admiral Richard Evenly Byrd, Jr. (NSN: 0-7918), United States Navy, for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services to the Government of the United States while in command of a Special Navy Mission to the Pacific from August 27, 1943 to December 5, 1943 when thirty-three islands of the Pacific were surveyed or investigated for the purpose of recommending air base sites of value to the United States for its defense or for the development of post-war civil aviation. In this service Admiral Byrd exercised fine leadership in gaining the united effort of civilian, Army, and Navy experts. He displayed courage, initiative, vision, and a high order of ability in obtain data and in submitting reports which will be of great present and future value to the National Defense and to the Government of the United States in the post-war period. Action Date: August 27 – December 5, 1943

2nd Legion of Merit citation

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting a Gold Star in lieu of a Second Award of the Legion of Merit to Rear Admiral Richard Evenly Byrd, Jr. (NSN: 0-7918), United States Navy, for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services to the Government of the United States as Confidential Advisor to the Commander in Chief, United States Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations from March 26, 1942 to May 10, 1942, August 14, 1942 to August 26, 1943, and from December 6, 1943 to October 1, 1945. In the performance of his duty Rear Admiral Byrd served in the Navy Department and in various areas outside the continental limits of the United States, employed on special missions on the fighting fronts in Europe and the Pacific. In all assignments his thoroughness, attention to detail, keen discernment, professional judgment and zeal produced highly successful results. His wise counsel, sound advice and foresight in planning constituted a material contribution to the war effort and to the success of the United States Navy. The performance of duty of Rear Admiral Byrd was at all times in keeping with the highest traditions and reflected credit upon himself and the United States Naval Service. General Orders: Board Serial 176P00 (February 4, 1946)

Action Date: March 26, 1942 – October 1, 1945

Distinguished Flying Cross citation

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross to Commander Richard Evenly Byrd, Jr. (NSN: 0-7918), United States Navy, for extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight; in recognition of his courage, resourcefulness and skill as Commander of the expedition which flew the airplane "America" from New York City to France from June 29 to July 1, 1927, across the Atlantic Ocean under extremely adverse weather conditions which made a landing in Paris impossible; and finally for his discernment and courage in directing his plane to a landing at Ver sur Mer, France, without serious injury to his personnel, after a flight of 39 hours and 56 minutes. Action Date: June 29 – July 1, 1927

Letter of Commendation

He rendered valuable service as Secretary and Organizer of the Navy Department Commission on Training Camps, and trained men in aviation at the ground school in Pensacola, and in charge of rescue parties and afterwards in charge of air forces in Canada. [42]

Dates of rank

United States Naval Academy Midshipman - May 28, 1908 (Class of 1912)
Ensign Lieutenant, Junior Grade Lieutenant
June 8, 1912 March 15, 1916
Retired on same date
September 2, 1918
Lieutenant Commander Commander Rear Admiral
September 21, 1918 (temporary)
February 10, 1925 (permanent)
May 9, 1926
By act of Congress
on December 21, 1926
December 21, 1929
By act of Congress


Further reading

  • Byrd's Decorations at Military Times
  • , August 1930, pp. 225–241Popular Mechanics"At the bottom of the World",
  • The short film Longines Chronoscope with Richard E. Byrd is available for free download at the Internet Archive
  • Time (magazine); Monday, November 8, 1926. Born. To Mrs. Marie Ames Byrd, of Winchester, Virginia, and Boston, a daughter. Mrs. Byrd is the wife of Lieut. Commander Richard Evelyn Byrd, U.S.N., who flew to the North Pole and back from Spitzbergen last spring. Lieutenant Byrd's brother, Harry F. Byrd, is Governor of Virginia.

See also


  • Little America: Aerial Exploration in the Antarctic The Flight to the South Pole (1930)
  • Discovery: The Story of the Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition (1935)


  1. ^ Peter Matthiessen, End of the Earth, National Geographic Society, 2003, p. 197
  2. ^ Richard Sale and Madeleine Lewis, Explorers, Smithsonian, 2005, p. 34
  3. ^ 9 Brimmer Street
  4. ^
  5. ^ VMI to UVA to USNA
  6. ^ Navy Register, 1914. pg. 64.
  7. ^ Navy Register, 1917. pg. 196.
  8. ^ a b Who's Who in America. 1956-57. pg. 386.
  9. ^ Century of Flight: The Atlantic Challenge
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ New York Times,May 9, 1996, page 1;
  13. ^ The North Pole Flight of Richard E. Byrd: An Overview of the Controversy, Ohio State University
  14. ^ See also and
  15. ^
  16. ^ Ibid pp.39–41
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ New York Times. December 22, 1926.
  20. ^ New York Times. March 6, 1927.
  21. ^
  22. ^ – The Ditching of the "America"
  23. ^ "Why We May Wait 20 Years for Ocean Airliners" Popular Science, August 1927, p. 9
  24. ^ U.S. Navy Register, 1930.
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^ Paul Skowron, "A Philatelic Introduction to B.A.E. II: The Stamps"
  28. ^ BYRD IS HONORED BY SANTO DOMINGO; Explorer Gets Medal of the Order of Columbus at Ceremony at Republic's Embassy
  29. ^ Richard Evelyn Byrd, Jr.
  30. ^
  31. ^ Summerhayes & Beeching 2007, p.17
  32. ^ BYRD HEADS HOME FROM ANTARCTICA. Bernard Kalb. New York Times. February 4, 1956.
  33. ^ a b Admiral Richard E. Byrd-Arlington National Cemetery
  34. ^
  35. ^ Admiral Byrd's Secret Diary
  36. ^
  37. ^ Our Source: "Byrd Gets CBS Award." (April 1, 1934). Broadcasting with Broadcast Advertising, p. 35.
  38. ^
  39. ^
  40. ^ Public Law 79-185, 59 Stat. 536
  41. ^ Richard E. Byrd Valor Awards
  42. ^ The Navy Book of Distinguished Service. Harry R. Stringer, editor. Fassett Publishing Company. Washington, D.C. 1921. pg. 187
  43. ^ Byrd Service Record
  44. ^ U.S. Navy Register of Commissioned Officers. 1919. pg. 406.
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