Admiral Richard E Byrd
RICHARD Evelyn Byrd was born 1888 into a wealthy Virginian family. He entered the United States Naval Academy at the age of 20 and was commissioned in 1912. He learned to fly during the First World War and became a flying instructor for the U.S. Navy. This was start of a pioneering career in aviation, particularly in navigating across uncharted territories. Byrd, with his navigator Floyd Bennett, was the first person to fly over the North Pole on May 9th, 1926 (though generally accepted in America, this record is disputed by some sources). This brought recognition which enabled him to finance a total of eleven polar expeditions. His first expedition of 1928 was the one in which Paul Siple participated. Byrd became a Vice Admiral in 1930 and remains the most famous of the U.S. polar explorers. He died on March 11th, 1957.
The Quest for a Boy Scout
COMMANDER Byrd, as he then was, announced his intention of taking a Boy Scout on his forthcoming Antarctic Expedition in 1927, perhaps mindful of Shackleton's Quest expedition and Scout James Marr. He requested the cooperation of the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America to find the boy. At that time there were 826,000 U.S. Scouts to choose from! Each one of the 28,400 Scout groups was given the opportunity to nominate a candidate who was required to have:
Despite these stringent requirements, James E West, U.S. Chief Scout Executive at the time, tells us in his account of the selection procedure, (in an appendix to some editions of A Boy Scout with Byrd ), that there were "literally thousands of applications". Each application was vetted by a local committee and a list of 88 suitable candidates was recommended to the National Office. After rigorous consideration, the National Office came up with a short-list of six young men:
As all the candidates were Eagle Scouts of exceptional quality, it was not an easy task to select a winner. The candidates were invited to New York for ten days, where they lived together under the direction of Mr Malcolm C Douglas of the National Staff. This experience must have been very close to a modern TV Big Brother show, as the Scouts' every move was watched, not only by their official mentors, but by the press and radio stations. The New York Sun published pictures of the six boys and asked readers to send their views as to which Scout they thought should go on the expedition.
On their first day in New York, the applicants lunched with Commander Byrd himself and were interviewed by a member of his staff who made them all "thoroughly aware" of the dangers and difficulties they must face if they were to make the trip. Byrd expressed his view that any of the six would be suitable, and a worthy representative of the Boys Scouts of America.
There followed a punishing schedule of visits, interviews, and assessments including the U.S. Army Alpha Intelligence Test. It seemed that everyone wanted to meet the would-be polar explorers and have a hand in the selection. In the end however, it could have all been left to the lads themselves! On board the City of New York, the sailing ship which was to be used to take most of the expedition to the Antarctic, the Scouts were asked to nominate which two of their companions they would take with them if three places became available on the expedition. Five of the Scouts choose Paul Siple as their first choice of companion.
Paul Allman Siple
PAUL Siple was chosen unanimously by the official assessing panel and their verdict was readily endorsed by Byrd. Looking at Paul Siple's impressive qualifications, few could disagree with the decision. He was 19 years old and had completed his first year as a biology student. By comparison, James Marr, when selected for the Quest Expedition, was 18 years old and had completed his first year as student of marine biology. Apart from the 21 required merit badges, Siple had earned 38 additional ones! He had had five years experience as a Sea Scout and had spent 35 weeks in total under canvas, including four weeks' winter camping in snow conditions, often by himself. After leaving school, he had worked for a year doing topographical work with the Pennsylvania State Department of Highways. In his letter of application, Siple writes that Scouting was to be his life's work, and,
"If there were to be no other merits to be derived except a close relationship with Commander Byrd I would feel honoured."
Like Scout Marr, Siple was a fine physical specimen, over 6ft tall and at 19 years old could hardly be considered a boy. Many younger men had died for their country in the First World War. Unlike Scout Marr, it appears that Siple's place on the expedition had to be publicly funded. Milestones correspondent, Dick Stamm, who himself became an Eagle Scout and went on to become an Antarctic explorer, meeting and working with Paul Siple in 1956, remembers that he and his class mates subscribed their "pennies, nickels and dimes"
to a fund-raising campaign led by the Weekly Reader, who were providing sponsorship "to help send Paul to the Antarctic."
There was very little time for celebration or preparation. Paul was allowed home for only a few days before he was back in New York, where he was taken to a luncheon at the Harvard Club where he met Col. Theodore Roosevelt, the ex-President's son. Paul took out his pocket Bible from his uniform and asked Roosevelt to sign it. The Colonel, a noted traveller, did so telling the Scout that he himself always carried a Bible and that he had gained much from it, proving his point with several pertinent biblical quotations.
Paul determined to keep a log, and on his return his book, A Boy Scout with Byrd was published in 1931. It is a well-written narrative, but if anything understates the adventures that the author had, concentrating instead on the story of the expedition, his dog teams and the Antarctic wildlife. James Marr had had the close support of Shackleton with his account until 'The Boss's' death on South Georgia. Admiral Byrd tells us in his preface to Siple's book that he had not read Siple's account and had no intention of doing so until it was published, as he had no wish to influence it in any way, knowing that the book would be accurate.
My copy, shown here, has a dedication to a fellow Scout, John Hayes, signed at Treasure Valley Scout Reservation, Massachusetts in 1937. The Scout Reservation is still open.
THE City of New York left her mooring amid great hullabaloo on August 25th, 1928. She was carrying 200 tons of supplies and 33 members of the expedition. Siple's parents, with Eagle Scouts from his home town of Erie, Pennsylvania, were on the dockside with thousands of other well-wishers to cheer the ship on it way.
The ship was a sailing barque which, like the Quest and Discovery, had a small auxiliary steam engine. She was launched as the Samson in Tromso, Norway in 1882, and had been recommended to Byrd by the Norwegian, Roald Amundsen, the first man to reach the North Pole on foot. The ship had arrived in New York in a very poor state and required a complete refit. She was, however, the tool for the job, as like the Discovery and the Quest she had been built for the ice. Her hull was made of thick spruce and oak of the finest growth. The ribs, also of oak, were placed very close together and sheathed with a layer of heavy planking both on the inside and out. Her sides were 34 inches thick, widening to 41 inches near the keel. The ship displaced 515 tons and was 170 feet in length and 31 feet in beam.
The expedition was the first to be connected to the outside world by radio and, like Shackleton's Quest, also carried cine cameras, but Byrd's came with cameramen working for Paramount Studios.
The City of New York, however, was only a part of the expedition, other ships were also involved. Byrd was to embark on the steamship Eleanor Bolling six weeks later, yet still arrive in New Zealand before the much slower sailing barque.
Siple, like Scout Marr, was accorded no concessions. He had to assert himself just to find one of the most uncomfortable berths on the ship, but he felt 'at home' having spent many hours aboard the Sea Scout Brig Niagara which Siple tells us, in another of his books, Exploring at Home, was Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry's historic flagship, "in the stirring battle of Lake Erie in 1812". This two-masted brig, with its battery of cannon, was in a pretty poor state when Siple and his fellow Scouts met aboard, but nevertheless, the veteran vessel stirred their imagination and was as an excellent headquarters. In summer months they would use the ship as a base for exploring the lake in its whaler.
On board the City of New York, Siple's first duties were as 'mess hand' in the galley. Fortunately for him, a stowaway was discovered and, as was the custom, he was made work his passage, taking Siple's duties in the galley. Paul was then able to take on the rôle of a seaman, taking his turn on watch and, under supervision, was given an occasional 'trick' at the wheel. His first experience nearly turned out to be his last:-
"I became so engrossed in watching the manoeuvres of the shifting sails in the first tacking that I had ever witnessed, that I hooked one of my knees over the projecting spoke of the huge steering wheel. Suddenly a yell of warning came and the big spanker boom that has the proportions of an immense telephone pole missed my head by less than an inch as it swung passed me. A sudden gust of wind had caught the sails so that the ship was forced sideways, and the huge rudder trying to resist the movement, suddenly commenced to spin the big steering wheel. I didn't have time to unhook my knee from its position over the spoke, and the force was so tremendous that it shot me into the air. . . . Needless to say both the Captain and the Mate bawled me out."
Siple had to do his share of the less glamorous jobs, such as scrubbing the decks and setting and taking in sail. He did not mind the night watches as he was a keen amateur astronomer, a hobby he had developed after studying for a Scout proficiency badge. On board the City of New York, the Scout devised a chart, using instruments he had made himself to record the changing skies.
Though the ship suffered a small fire in the radio battery room, engine trouble, and flood in the engine room, the out-going voyage to Panama was reasonably uneventful for Siple. The necessary repairs meant that on arrival in the Canal Zone the ship was held up for three days, giving time for exploration. Paul was taken off on a tour which included visiting the Ship Canal and seeing the powerful machines that controlled the massive locks; and also the ruins of the old city. His guides were Mr W Elwell and family. Elwell was Scout Commissioner for the city of Cristobal. Siple was also able to use his time in Panama to study the local bird and animal life.
AFTER Panama and 40 days in the Pacific, the ship docked at the island of Tahiti having already been overtaken by the Eleanor Bolling. Siple was entranced by the island, but not by the "supposedly beautiful hula maidens who were really flabby flat-faced individuals. . . ." ( ! )
After Tahiti, the ship entered the 'Roaring Forties' and encountered succession of storms. Siple had to change bunks, his own being soaked every time the ship rolled, taking water over its decks. Like all on board, he had to turn out to the call of 'All hands on deck!', and take in sail high above the decks. The ship rolled so much that he was at times alternatively over the water on both the port and starboard sides.
They arrived at South Island, New Zealand, on November 23rd, 1928. The ship was dry-docked for further repairs at Port Chalmers, near Dunedin and Siple, with a friend, hiked up to a vantage point and found a memorial to Captain Scott, who had sailed out of the same port in his Terra Nova in 1911, a ship which was destined to be crushed by ice. Paul stayed for a couple of days as the guest of Dr Robert Jack, a renowned physicist from Ottago University. With the rest of his crew he then had to work hard for a further seven days as they took on board provisions and expedition materials, including sectional houses, dogs, sleighs and aeroplanes. Three of these were taken by the expedition; the City of New York carried the largest, a Fairchild, in crates strapped to her deck. The large amount of materials carried in this way brought adverse comment from 'old salts' as the ship left harbour and began to roll against the swell.
Commander Byrd had now taken up residence on board, and altered the watches from four hours on, four hours off, to four hours on and eight hours off, much to the relief of his crew. A vigilant watch had to be maintained, as they began to encounter first whales and then icebergs. On December 14th the ship was taken in tow by the C.A. Larson, a commercial whaler, chartered to pull the ship down the ever narrowing 'leads' through the pack ice to the open waters of the Ross Sea.
Siple had assumed that he would be over-wintering on the ice with the 'advance party' and was somewhat taken aback when he found that the decision as to which men would stay and which men would form the return crews - necessary not only take the ships out of the Arctic ice, but to return with them at the conclusion of the expedition - had yet to be taken. In his last book 90° South, published in 1959, Siple describes how he gained his place in the over-wintering party "by coincidence of a Boy Scout skill". It seems that expedition geologist Lawrence 'Larry' Gould had promised to provide the U.S. Museum of Natural History with seal and penguin skins. Byrd promoted Gould to be second-in-command of the expedition and predicted that he would no longer have the time to be messing with Natural History. Paul Siple, as a Scout on his hikes and expeditions, had skinned many an animal and also had some dissecting skill, as he had completed the first year of a Marine Biology degree course. Larry Gould was happy to off-load this responsibility to Siple and so pleaded Siple's case to Byrd. The Boy Scout was in!
THE ice cliffs of Antarctica were spotted on Christmas Day, and on Boxing Day the ship entered Discovery Inlet. Commander Byrd left to search inland for an expedition base to be known as 'Little America'. In his absence, expedition members amused themselves on the ice. Siple and his shipmates were 'inspected' by a column of Emperor penguins, an entertaining division, but just in time they realised that the pack-ice was breaking up and regained the ship with only moments to spare.
The next three weeks were, for Siple, "the most unhappy hours of the expedition" as, with many of the crew transferring stores to Little America, he had to spend much of his time standing watches in the crow's nest, alone in the watch point high up on the mainmast. During this time the young would-be polar explorer began to loose weight rapidly ". . .and knew that the only remedy was exercise." (You may think like me that this is a somewhat perverse conclusion!) He went to the Commander and, somewhat precociously given his total lack of experience, asked if he might be given charge of a dog-team. His chance came when one of the regular 'mushers' or dog-team drivers, was injured in an accident. Despite his lack of experience and having to train up his own team from the 'runts' and rejects ignored by the other drivers, Siple proved himself and revelled in his work.
On January 14th, 1929, the Fairchild plane, The Stars and Stripes, was assembled and test flown. Three days later, with Commander Byrd as the navigator, it rose above the base on an exploratory flight. Siple, with many of the expedition members, crowded round the radio and were excited by the descriptions by radio operator, Harold June, of the landscape, but were then greatly depressed when communication was lost. Fortunately, although the waiting listeners were not to know, it was just a technical problem.
The Eleanor Bolling had arrived and was being unloaded, secured to the ice-cliff and to the City of New York. Suddenly, there was an icefall onto the deck of the steam ship which, without doubt, would have capsized her without the support of the sailing ship. Some men were thrown into the icy water, but fortunately they were quickly recovered and revived. After that, the unloading was completed in double-quick time, and the steamer left to return to New Zealand for further supplies. Its return was by no means a certainty as, like Scott's Terra Nova, she could well have been caught in the winter pack-ice.
LITTLE America was established in three prefabricated houses. Further supplies and additional sectional houses were expected on the return of the Eleanor Bolling, but the ship could not get through the ice into the Ross Sea. Forty-two men, including Siple, were to live in the unfinished premises for over a year. In his book, Siple emphasises the cramped nature of the accommodation, but also describes a 20 foot by 20 foot gymnasium.
The expedition scientists began to carry out their research and Siple, along with the other dog-team drivers, was employed in transporting stores and materials for them.
A Fokker plane, Virginia, was sent out on a geological reconnoitre and had landed as a planned part of the survey, but was unable to return because of bad weather. The plane was properly secured, by its three-man crew, to the ground , but it was completely wrecked by the ferocity of the wind. The plane's radio had been damaged and it could only receive but not send messages, so help could not be summoned. The airmen, however, were safe and in good health, but unless they could be recovered they would surely perish, as it was too far for them to be able to return to Little America on foot. On March 13th, Commander Byrd, with Dean Smith as his pilot, set out to find the plane and eventually radioed base that they had spotted it. The missing aviators were rescued by two dog teams, directed by the radio in Byrd's plane.
Paul Siple was part of one of the two three-man sled teams. His sled was to dump supplies twenty miles out of camp for the lead team to pick up on their way back from the rescue. The total journey was to take two days, requiring an over-night camp away from base. After dumping the supplies, Siple's team turned for home and were over-flown by the Fairchild which waggled its wings at them, in a signal that the airmen had been recovered.
On a later occasion, Siple's dog-team was involved with two others in bringing stores from a cache left at the coast. On their return, some way away from Little America, the weather worsened, with the wind gusting the snow at over 50 miles per hour (80 kph), straight into the faces of the teams. The dogs refused to budge, except by use of the whip, so progress was slow. They struggled to follow a line of marker flags, as their incoming trail had been obliterated by the snow. The animals were forever wanting to turn out of the wind and on occasion had to be led by hand. Siple, like the others, was driving his sleigh singlehanded. He was in the rear when his team abruptly turned off the trail and tangled themselves in their traces. By the time this had been sorted out the other two sledges had disappeared from view, their trail obliterated. Siple desperately cast about him to locate any of the trail markers. He could see nothing but snow - 'white-out' conditions that removed all sense of distance, direction and even the rise and fall of the ground. He reasoned that his route must lay into the wind, even though every instinct made him want to turn away from it. Following this plan, he eventually came across a marker and was able to catch up with the other teams. A potential tragedy had been averted but there was still some way to go.
Suddenly, the lead sledge took off at a furious pace, its driver, Quinn, was new to this particular dog-team and the dogs, perhaps sensing their nearness to their kennels, were making a bolt for it. It was clear to Siple and his remaining companion that the sledge was beyond Quinn's control. They could only hope, as it disappeared out of sight, that the dogs would arrive, with their driver, unharmed at their kennels. When the pair arrived back at base late that evening there was no sign of Quinn. The alarm was raised and a search organised. After a short rest Siple and his companion were again out on the ice and eventually the cry went up that Quinn had been found. He had managed to stop his dogs, but was way off-route. Not knowing his whereabouts, he used his sledge and its contents to make a rough shelter over a hole in the snow, which he filled with his huskies and himself. He claimed that throughout the long night he never once felt uncomfortably cold!
Later Siple was to have the privilege of taking Byrd himself out with his team, but this was to be the high point as far as his dog sledging was concerned. A number of sled teams left under the leadership of Dr Gould, the expedition's geologist, to explore a mountain range. They took Siple's dogs, but not Siple himself. The trip was successful, but as the explorers began their return journey, Siple's dogs, had to be shot to conserve food for the others. This was apparently a planed and routine procedure. Paul did not discover his loss until he ran out to meet the retuning party. As a kindness, one of the team-members had taken a close-up photograph of Siple's favourite dog - Erebuss - or Buss for short, before the life-or-death decision had had to be made. This last picture appears opposite.
Paul Siple wrote,
"The return of the Gould party, which brought a measure of happiness to us all, brought to me my unhappiest day at Little America, and I am sure that the loss of my dogs will always be one of the saddest days of my life."
SIPLE was employed through the worst part of the winter in building tunnels for the dog teams and a 'dissection house' where he dissected and stuffed penguins which were required to be sent back home for further research. (Later Byrd was to decide that Paul should capture and maintain live specimens.) The dissection house was roofed with one of the two lifeboats taken from the City of New York. Siple invented a stove that ran on seal blubber but, during a short absence, the seal blubber vaporised and the stove shot flame in all directions. Without the use of a fire extinguisher that Siple had had the foresight to store handily, the lifeboat 'roof' would surely have been destroyed.
Siple wanted to establish whether Weddell seals remained in the Bay of Whales over winter. When weather conditions permitted, he left the base with a companion to search for evidence. On one such expedition, without warning, Siple crashed through the snow into a hidden crevasse. Luckily, he landed on a ledge and was able to shout for his companion, but the companion did not arrive. He had also fallen into the same crevasse. Fortunately, both men managed to extricate themselves, but their return journey was much slower as, roped together, they carefully probed the ice before them.
Life at Little America was enlivened by various means. With so many experts on hand, an 'Antarctic University' was started with various courses on offer. On Saturday afternoons, many of the men listened to the camp radio and tuned in to U.S. radio stations, atmospheric conditions permitting. Some special broadcasts had personal messages for members of the crew, including Siple, but often the voices were too jumbled to be recognisable. On one occasion, Paul was able to hear his father and mother distinctly. He was also involved in live broadcasts transmitted from the polar station. The photograph above shows the Columbia Broadcasting System's temporary 'studio'.
Temperatures dropped throughout the winter, when the sun never rose above the horizon. On one occasion Siple's oil lantern froze at 50 degrees below. The lowest temperature recorded in Little America was -71 degrees (-57°C).
When the sun again made its presence felt, after six months of not appearing above the horizon, Commander Byrd ordered that the two remaining planes should be released from their bunkers created from the snow and ice, and prepared for flight. Siple was very lucky to have flown at various times in all three of the expedition's planes. He took great interest as the Floyd Bennett, the Ford Tri-motor, took off on Thanksgiving Day, November 1st, 1929, with Bernt Balchen as Pilot, Byrd navigating, Captain McKinley photographer, and Harold June once more as radio operator on a record-breaking attempt to fly over the South Pole.
The plane flew south towards the Queen Maude Mountains, but was struggling to gain sufficient height to clear the 12,000 foot high peaks. Byrd gave his men the choice of jettisoning 400lbs of food - which might ensure their survival should they be forced down - or to return. The food was jettisoned and at the last moment the plane cleared the peaks. Siple was listening to the radio when the message came in from Harold June, that the plane was now flying straight for the Pole. 800 miles south of Little America, the plane turned in a slow circle and Byrd, now the first man to over fly both Poles, dropped a small American flag weighted with a stone taken from the grave of Floyd Bennett, his pilot on the North Pole flight. Bennett was to have been a part of this expedition, but had tragically died of pneumonia.
Back at Little America, the radio crackled out that success had been achieved. Siple, and men who had been patiently waiting by the radio receiver, "could scarcely contain themselves for joy."
The last few weeks of the expedition were spoiled for Paul Siple, as he had badly strained a shoulder muscle lifting penguins. The injury did not respond to treatment and he had to have his arm permanently strapped. Obviously, he could no longer handle a dog-team, but he was able to continue his scientific researches.
IT was touch-and-go as to whether the relief ships would get near enough to take the expedition home before the onset of a second winter. Naturally, there was great jubilation when word was received that the City of New York had gained the open water of Discovery Inlet. The men abandoned Little America, their base for over a year, and trekked across the ice to meet the ship. There was little time to be lost, as it was clear that the pack-ice was closing-in fast. The steamer Eleanor Bolling had not yet arrived and so as much as possible had to be loaded as speedily as possible onto the City of New York. Another cruel choice had to be made about the dogs and many were put down. On the February 19th, 1930, the sailing ship cleared the bay, narrowly avoiding becoming ice-locked, and headed back to New Zealand
Siple, with his specimen penguins, was transferred to the Eleanor Bolling which had been waiting in clear water, and from there to the Whaler C.A. Larson. The Larson was the faster ship, and this was thought to be the best way of ensuring the specimen penguins' safe arrival back in America. Unfortunately, this was not to be the case, as many of the birds were accidentally poisoned by the cleaning agents used to clean the ship after its whaling activities. The few which did survive were released unofficially by crew who thought maybe that the birds would not in any case survive the voyage. Many sailors had a superstitious dread of birds on board ship and the crew were happy to see them go, especially as this meant that when the ship reached the tropics, they could again utilise the space where the birds had been kept as a swimming area. As far as their keeper Paul Siple was concerned, this was yet another cruel blow.
When the City of New York arrived in New Zealand, Paul met up with the rest of the expedition. He was given a berth back aboard the Eleanor Bolling, as he required medical attention to his shoulder, which had still not healed. The faster ship was to sail after the City of New York, but would still arrive home first. Paul saw specialist doctors, who advised that his shoulder was on the mend, but required plenty of exercise.
The Eleanor Bolling set off a week after the City of New York and overtook her at the island of Tahiti. After dangerous storms, the ship arrived back in Panama and Siple was given a warm welcome by the Scout friends he had met on the way out. This, though, was nothing to the welcome that was to follow when the ship arrived in New York.
In Siple's own words,
". . .through the mist and fog, came launches and small boats with crowds of people and screaming sirens to meet us. Out of the air, dipped airplanes, blimps and most majestic of all, the huge dirigible, 'Los Angeles'. It seemed almost too good to be true!"
And that was just the start!
LIKE Scout Marr, Paul Siple was acclaimed a hero. His own hero, Byrd, was made a Vice Admiral of the US Navy. After the expedition Byrd wrote of Siple,
"He went South with us as a Boy Scout, but he took his place as a man. He did his work exceptionally well, whatever task was assigned to him, he executed thoroughly and conscientiously. At all times he had my complete confidence and friendship. His loyalty is unslackening - and this is a quality which I value more than merit, of which he has well more than his share."
There is a final comparison to be made between Marr and Siple. Both, amazingly, went on to spend their lives as their nations' pre-eminent polar scientists. Siple is credited with discovering the concept of the 'wind-chill factor' and its associated formulæ, which he documented in his 1940 doctoral thesis. Admiral Byrd's next expedition to the Antarctic was in 1934 and he invited Siple to take part and return to Little America as his Personal Assistant and as a fully-fledged member of the Scientific Team. Siple went on to lead his own expeditions, including one in 1957 which was the first to over-winter at the South Pole. By 1957, Paul Siple had been to the Antarctic six times and spent a total six years of his life there, more than any other person.
In 1958, Dr Paul Siple received the National Geographic Society's Hubbard Medal, the first of which was awarded in 1906. In the intervening years, it had only been awarded 15 more times, other recipients included Amunsdsen, Shackleton and Siple's own boyhood hero and late leader, Admiral Byrd.
At the award ceremony there was another presentation. Paul Siple presented a special certificate to a dog. 'Bravo' was born on a polar expedition and had been hand-reared by Lieut. Tuck. Normally, when a polar expedition returned, the U.S. Government sold-off all surviving dogs as 'surplus property'. At Siple's behest, Bravo was declared a V.I.D. (Very Important Dog), given an 'Honourable Discharge', and placed under the orders of Lieut. Tuck for the rest of his life. Chief Justice Warren, present at the ceremony, remarked that this kindness revealed something of the nature of Paul Siple. I am sure it did. We know that Paul would have been thinking of his first dog-team and of 'Buss', who had had to be destroyed all those years ago.
PAUL Siple died on November 25th, 1968, having achieved many other high honours but, as far as he was concerned, his greatest came when his hero and former leader Admiral Byrd, himself an Honorary Scout, conferred upon him U.S. Scouting's highest award, the Silver Buffalo, in 1947.
The Silver Buffalo was created in 1925 and presented only for outstanding service to young people, not necessarily within the Scout Movement, but at a national level. The first Silver Buffalo was awarded to Baden-Powell and the second to the unknown London Scout who, by doing a good turn to an American businessman, William Boyce, lost in a London Smog, was indirectly responsible for the formation of the Boy Scouts of America. Other recipients have been Ernest T Seton, Walt Disney, pioneer aviator Charles A Lindbergh, artist Norman Rockwell, Apollo Commander James A Lovell and General, now Statesman, Colin L Powell.
Despite his national fame, Paul Siple was always proud to acknowledge his Scouting roots. Scouting Milestones reader Dick Stamm, who as a child had helped to raise funds to send Paul Siple to the Antarctic, was delighted to meet his childhood hero when he became involved in the preparation for the International Geophysical Year in 1957, led in Antarctica by Paul Siple, who was Chief Scientific Officer in charge of the South Polar Base, built over the South Pole, which operated throughout the IGY. It was not long before they were talking Scouting, Dick had, like Paul Siple, become a Eagle Scout and had followed his hero into a lifetime of adventure.
Siple wrote a total of four books, and has a permanent memorial in the following geographical features that bear his name. Siple Island (located at 73° 39'S, 125° 00'W) with its Mount Siple; Siple Coast (82° 00'S, 155° 00'W) and Siple Station, the United States' scientific installation in Ellsworth Land.
Today, there is a very competitive programme that makes it possible for American Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts to win a trek to Antarctica, to follow in the footsteps of Paul Siple. The winners have helped to tag seals and observe penguins just as he did. If you have been lucky enough to have had this experience, Scouting Milestones would like to hear from you.
Did Paul Siple Meet James Marr?
The lifetime polar achievements of James Marr are well-documented in the Milestone article that led to the writing of this Page. Given that both men spent more time between the First and Second World Wars in Antarctica than any other of their countrymen, I had hoped to find evidence that they met. Unfortunately I have not been able to do so. In Siple's last book 90° South published in 1957, he refers the successful British Operation Tabarin, designed to prevent Nazi submarine raiders from using Antarctic whaling stations as U-boat pens. He details Marr's achievements in quickly setting up his bases to counter the threat, ostensibly to study flora and fauna, a necessary pretext to keep the operation as covert as possible from the Germans and from neutral Chile and Argentina, both of whom disputed Britain's Antarctic territorial claims. Marr's observational installations went on after the war to become permanent scientific bases and the focus for British territorial claims in Antarctica.
Siple refers to Marr as being the Boy Scout representative on the Shackleton Quest Expedition, as he had been on Byrd's 1928 Expedition, and acknowledges that it is was probably Marr's example that prompted Commander Byrd to also take a Boy Scout. Obviously, if a meeting with Marr had ever taken place, Siple would have mentioned it at this point.
Marr died in 1965 and Siple in 1968, so there is still a chance that the two men could have met between 1957, when Siple's last book was published, and 1965 before Marr died, but, sad to say, this does seem doubtful. However, it is at least clear that Paul Siple was well aware of his British predecessor.
IN January 2003, as this article was being prepared, news came through that a U.K. Scout Leader Andrew Cooney had just become the youngest person ever to trek to the South Pole, but that is another story.
Paul Siple with his hero, Commander Byrd