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Bess Balchen Urbahn on: The Controversy of the North Pole Flight
Bess Balchen 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 fun?

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 work?

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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