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A Handshake Over a Medal: Dr. Alton A. Lindsey remembers his return from Antarctica in 1935Written by Glenn Stein
So wrote Dr. Alton A. Lindsey to the author on May 10, 1997 — he had turned 90 only three days before. In the early years of the Great Depression, he was at Cornell University studying for his doctorate in biology, when he interrupted this pursuit to serve as the Vertebrate Zoologist on the Byrd Antarctic Expedition II (1933-35). While the interior of the continent was canvassed by dog sled, tractor and airplane, Lindsey studied penguins, seals and other animals on the coast.
To commemorate the successful expedition, the Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition Medal was established by Act of Congress on June 2, 1936, and 57 oxidized sterling silver medals were issued (each having the recipient's name engraved on the edge). This figure represents 56 men in the Ice Party (those who spent the winter night (six months) at Little America), plus one to Lieut. (JG) Robert A. J. English, USN (Master of the Bear of Oakland). The medal to English is known and is part of a large number of his items held in a private collection.
The medal hangs from a white ribbon, representing the snow and ice of Antarctica. The obverse depicts Admiral Byrd standing on ice in polar clothing; he is holding a ski pole in his left hand and a sled dog is seated on his right. In the background there are large ice formations. The dates "1933/1935" are to the right on the ice. The whole is encircled by "BYRD ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION".
The medal's reverse features a central rectagular tablet with the wording:
PRESENTED TO THE OFFICERS AND MEN OF THE SECOND BYRD ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION TO EXPRESS THE VERY HIGH ADMIRATION IN WHICH THE CONGRESS AND THE AMERICAN PEOPLE HOLD THEIR HEROIC AND UNDAUNTED ACCOMPLISHMENTS FOR SCIENCE UNEQUALLED IN THE HISTORY OF POLAR EXPLORATION.
The images surrounding the tablet have evidently not previously been fully described in literature. To the left are two radio towers of Little America, to the right is the Bear of Oakland under full sail, and above what has been described as a "Ford Tri-Motor airplane" (without any landing skis); if true, this is the Floyd Bennett, salvaged from Byrd's first expedition. Finally, below the tablet is a team of four dogs pulling a man on a sled, with ice formations in the background.
Dr. Lindsey clearly remembered the October day in 1937 when he received his medal — but he held a more important memory of an intangible reward for service in the frozen south:
When the enclosed 1937 photo was taken by a Navy photographer (otherwise now unknown), the C[ongressional] medal had been pinned upon Wm. Haines, Byrd Antarctic Expedition II meteorologist, in the private office of Navy Dept. Secretary Claude Swanson, a famed statesman of that time (seated, because too feeble to stand). [Swanson wrote the 9 1/2-page introduction to Byrd's Discovery: The Story of The Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition] He is only pretending to pin the medal on his friend Byrd (left, with famous Admiral Leahy behind his head), and even that was an ordeal. Everyone looks so grim & unhappy because we, especially Byrd his great friend, were affected by Swanson's condition. I am the only young man shown in this photo...
The expedition ended with President F.D. Roosevelt meeting The Bear May 10, 1935 on arrival, waiting on the dock at Washington Navy Yard. I did, & still do, appreciate that handshake & conversation more than the Congressional medal. There were 56 men on the Ice Party, and the scientific staff of 10, the flyers, a few military officers (perhaps a third of the personnel of 56, received the medal by mail, late in 1937). Haines & I were living there in D.C.
In fact, the expedition formally ended six days later when the two main expedition vessels, the Bear of Oakland and Jacob Ruppert, sailed into Boston, where the participants were received at an official welcome home to Boston ceremony, hosted by the mayor. The passing decades had not lessened memories of other former comrades on the ice.
Lindsey laid down the names of the seven "surviving Ice Party lads" he knew of — they were:
Dr. Erwin H. Bramhall (Physicist)
Stevenson Corey (Supply Officer & Dog Driver)
Joseph Hill Junior (Tractor Driver)
Guy Hutcheson (Radio Engineer)
Alton A. Lindsey (Vertebrate Biologist)
William S. McCormick (Autogyro Pilot)
Olin D. Stancliff (Dog Driver)
Dr. Alton A. Lindsey
Mr. Frank Draskovic
Dr. Hal Vogel
1) The steam barkentine Bear of Oakland in the Ross Sea. (Jack Woodson).
2) Dr. Lindsey and Seaman Robert Young weigh a baby seal; Young was ex-British Royal Navy. (Discovery).
3) Byrd, Haines and Lindsey receiving the Special Congressional Medals from Secretary of the Navy Claude A. Swanson (Oct. 15, 1937). (Dr. A.A. Lindsey).
4) The Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition Medal 1933-35 awarded to Admiral Richard E. Byrd. (Sotheby's).
Alton A. Lindsey, 92, Dies; Ecologist Left Global Imprint. Dec. 23, 1999. (The New York Times).
Byrd, Richard E. 1935. Discovery: The Story of The Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition. (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons).
Draskovic to Stein. Aug. 20, 1999.
Foxfall Medals (http://foxfall.com/index.htm).
The Honours and Awards Presented to Admiral Richard E. Byrd. Nov. 10, 1988. (London: Sotheby's).
Icenhower, Joseph. 1970. American Sea Heroes. (Maplewood: Hammond and Company). Illustrated by Jack Woodson.
Lindsey to Stein. April-May 1997.
Strandberg, John E. & Bender, Roger James. 1994. The Call of Duty: Military Awards and Decorations of the United States of America. (San Jose: R. James Bender Publishing).
Glenn M. Stein, FRGS copyright 2008
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Comment Link Thursday, 07 December 2000 18:19 posted by Bruce Young
Comment Link Thursday, 07 December 2000 18:15 posted by Bruce Young
Comment Link Thursday, 07 December 2000 17:41 posted by Bruce Young
Comment Link Tuesday, 30 November 1999 00:00 posted by bruce young
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