Q: How convinced was Bernt that Byrd and Bennett made the Pole and
why should we believe him. Wasn't he someone who would read a math book for
BESS: Well, Bernt Balchen was convinced that Byrd didn't make it, it was
mathematically impossible and mathematics was one of Bernt Balchen's hobbies,
you wouldn't catch him reading a novel or anything. He'd read math books for
fun or he would be reading art books, how-to art books and those were his
favorite readings. There was no question in his mind that Byrd didn't make it.
And, of course, on top of that, that's what Floyd Bennett had told him.
Q: Did he think that Byrd knew that they hadn't made it and lied?
BESS: I'm convinced after what Bernt Balchen told me that Byrd knew, as well
as, Floyd Bennett knew that they hadn't made it and I think life would have
been much easier for Byrd had he not, hidden the fact that they didn't make it.
Of course I think that in later years that was really what worried him.
Q: Can you summarize, what did he expressly prohibit or prevent Bernt from
doing because of the publicity he had started to get?
BESS: Admiral Byrd had a tremendous influence in Washington, first of all,
through his brother who was head of the Armed Services Committee, in the Senate
and as such, he had a lot of power. And, that of course, Byrd could talk with
the Generals in the Pentagon and you know they would have to eat out of his
hand practically. So, they just kept Bernt Balchen done and he didn't get
any jobs after he had been a Project Officer.
Admiral Byrd even threatened Bernt Balchen that he would go to President
Eisenhower and complain about him. I don't know whether he ever did but at
least he threatened to do it.
Q: Byrd prevented him from doing any speeches, and press and meaningful
BESS: Finally, Bernt Balchen was permitted, he did a lot of speeches before he
had the or rather just after he was without a job in the Pentagon. He was used
by the Public Relations Office to make speeches and promote the Air Force.
And, then that stopped and he was allowed to give one speech, per month and
that was all. Other than that, he had nothing to do. He sat in the library
and read during his office hours.
Q: Why do you think Byrd was stupid for pushing Bernt to be quiet?
BESS: In the long run as I see it, it was a very unwise thing of Admiral Byrd
to do to go after Bernt Balchen, the way he did. My husband had no intentions
of coming out with the North Pole story but he was so tested by Byrd that in
the end he really just said, I don't care what the consequences are, I'm going
to tell the world about it, because he was so belittled by Byrd and how much
can a man take.
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