Saturday, April 16, 2011

Antarctic explorer Admiral Richard E. Byrd

poster for the Oscar winning documentary (mostly silent) from 1930
As those who have the book Wellington: a Capital Century know, American polar explorer and aviator Richard Byrd used New Zealand as a base for his Antarctic expeditions for 27 years. He was so moved by his experiences of the country and its people that he is said to have come to regard it as his second home.

Richard Byrd was born in Virginia, USA in 1888. He attended the University of Virginia before transferring to the United States Naval Academy in 1912. He developed a passion for flying while serving with the United States Navy during the First World War. Subsequently he became well known for his aeronautical exploits, notably a claimed flight over the North Pole in 1926. This enabled him to secure financial support for his first two Antarctic expeditions – both of which used New Zealand as a base and had New Zealanders as expedition members.

The New Zealand National Memorial to Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd was unveiled on the top of Mt Victoria in Wellington on 11 March 1962, the fifth anniversary of Byrd's death. Those gathered at the unveiling included the Prime Minister Keith Holyoake, Leader of the Opposition Walter Nash, Mayor Frank Kitts, and Byrd's daughter, Mrs Robert Breyer.
A cable from President John F. Kennedy was read, who stated that the memorial would stand: "As a symbol of enduring friendship between the United States, land of his birth, and New Zealand, the country with which he was so closely associated in his great adventures."

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