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Eugene Rodgers on: Byrd's Tendency to be Secretive
Eugene Rodgers Q: Byrd was often very secretive about his plans. That, with the men fostered some rivalry?

ER: Byrd was a very secretive person. He liked to keep his plans to himself for the most part, especially regarding how he used personnel. For example, he had four pilots with him on the expedition. Only one, obviously, could be the pilot to fly to the South Pole, which was a big glamorous part of the expedition. The pilot of the South Polar flight would get all of the attention. So each of the four pilots, to begin with, ah, was vying for the honor of being number one. Who would fly Byrd to the South Pole? Byrd couldn't fly himself because he was a poor pilot. Soon, one pilot dropped out of the competition, Harold June. He decided to take the second seat on every flight and take himself out of the competition. That left three vying for the spot. And Byrd kind of strung it along. He wouldn't tell any of them who he had chosen for the flight. In fact, it wasn't until the, almost the eve of the South Polar flight that he turned, turned to Berndt Balchen and said, you're my man, you'll fly me to the South Pole.


Q: Did that cause a lot of tension between him and Balchen?

ER: Berndt Balchen, I think, resented Byrd's manipulation of his people as he saw it. He didn't think that the pilots should be strung along. He felt that Byrd should have told the pilots early on who was going to fly him to the South Pole. Balchen had his own ego. I'm sure he felt certain that he was the man that Byrd had to turn to. But nevertheless, Byrd did try to string them along, or at least, I shouldn't say that. Berndt Balchen felt that Byrd was stringing him along. Byrd was a very cautious man, a very cautious polar leader. This is one of the great advantages he has over other leaders. One of his great strengths was the, the caution with which he approached his exploration. Part of this caution was to wait until the very last minute to make major decisions. He had to have all the data he needed. Certainly his choice of people for important assignments was a decision that was major. When he made it a second in command, his first second in command had mental problems and had to be relieved before Byrd actually went down to Antarctica. He chose the second in command on the voyage down to Antarctica. But he didn't tell anyone about this until the very last minute when he had to choose someone to make a decision. That's when he announced who it would be. So Byrd liked to keep his options open as long as he could. He did this for his second in command of the expedition, he did this for his pilot to the South Pole. He did it in other cases.

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