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Raimond Goerler on: Richard Byrd: An American Hero
Raimond Goerler Q: Why did Byrd get such a huge reception when he returned to the United States? What did his victory represent to Americans in the '20s?

RG: His victory once again represented the superiority of American technology, American ambition and Byrd entered the growing pantheon of American heroes in the 1920's. Babe Ruth, Charles Lindbergh, Richard Byrd. People named their children after Richard Byrd because he was such a heroic figure and in this era of motion pictures, he looked good on camera. A very dashing figure and the news media just absolutely fell in love with this very athletic, good looking officer and to make it even better, he's from a very distinguished family. So just an absolute prize as a heroic icon.

Q: Byrd said he entered the hero business with the North flight. What did he mean by this and do you think he expected it?

RG: Byrd has a curious chapter in "Skyward", entitled "the hero business". And he talks in that chapter about all the parades and the lecture tours, the news media, etc., and it's a telling phrase because he refers to it as a business. He recognizes that this is a business that he needs to cultivate and he cultivates it very well. He cultivates it in terms of creating a public image that makes people want to buy stories and this cash is the foundation, along with donations, for the next expeditions. That's really the whole history of private polar exploration. You draw some publicity, you gather the cash, lecture tours, whatever, Byrd was able to do it on a scale never achieved before, in large part because of the nature of the mass media.

Q: Why does he get such a big reception?

RG: Despite the inglorious ending of the transatlantic in the water, the flight is still viewed as a significant accomplishment. After all, it had a very happy ending. The drama was there for all the newspapers to pick up. The National Geographic published an article in its popular magazine about the flight and everybody comes back safely, that certainly is a trade mark of Byrd's expedition. So, even though coming in third, it really hasn't lost any luster and he also can make the case that after all, he's the first to fly a three engine aircraft and make the point that this is where aviation will go, not the one engine plane.

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