Birth of Richard Byrd

US #2388 was issued one month before Byrd’s 100th birthday. Click the image to order.

Richard Evelyn Byrd was born on October 25, 1888, in Winchester, Virginia.

Byrd was descended from one of the first families of Virginia – among his ancestors were John Rolfe and Pocahontas.  Byrd attended the Virginia Military Institute and the University of Virginia before enrolling in the US Naval Academy.

US #2388 – 1988 Byrd Silk Cachet First Day Cover. Click the image to order.

After graduating in 1912, Byrd was assigned to the USS Wyoming and later the USS Dolphin.  Aboard this ship, he met the assistant secretary of the Navy at the time, Franklin D. Roosevelt and participated in the US intervention in Veracruz, Mexico.  After suffering a foot injury, Byrd medically retired from the Navy and then joined the Rhode Island Naval Militia.  He also recognized the expanding future of aviation and earned his pilot wings in 1917.

US #733 wasn’t distributed for public sale. Click the image to order.

During World War I, Byrd worked in the Office of Naval Operations and trained pilots.  He also commanded naval air forces in Nova Scotia.  After the war, Byrd created the flight path for the Navy’s 1919 transatlantic crossing.  Then in 1925, he commanded the aviation unit of an arctic expedition, which inspired him to launch an expedition of his own.

US #753 was only available through the Philatelic Sales Agency.  Click the image to order.

In May 1926, Byrd and Floyd Bennett reported that they made the first recorded flight over the North Pole.  Byrd returned home a national hero, was promoted to the rank of commander and received the Medal of Honor.  There was later some controversy over whether they actually did fly over the North Pole, but Byrd used the fame from this trip to plan a flight over the South Pole.

Two years later, Byrd launched that expedition and on November 28, 1929, made the first flight to the South Pole and back.  For this achievement, he was promoted to rear admiral, making him the youngest admiral in the US Navy, at age 41.

US #768 – The ungummed, imperforate “Farley’s Follies” sheet. Click the image to order.

Byrd returned to the Antarctic in 1934 for a solo mission.  He spent five months alone in a meteorological station, where he suffered carbon monoxide poisoning from an ill-ventilated stove.  He was later rescued and recounted the tale in his autobiography Alone.  The US Post Office issued #733 to commemorate this expedition, though the stamp wasn’t distributed for public sale.  Rather, it was issued for use on letters mailed through the Little America Post Office that was established at the base camp of the Byrd Antarctic Expedition in the territory of the South Pole.

US #733//68 – 1933-35 Byrd Expedition Collection.  Click the image to order.

Byrd launched a third Antarctic expedition in 1939, but was called back the US for active duty.  During World War II he served as an advisor and also led surveys and other missions in the Pacific in search of airfields.  After the war, Byrd took part in two more Antarctic expeditions.  He died in Boston on March 11, 1957.

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  1. That five months alone taking weather observations had to be tough. Especially if he was taking radiosonde, in addition reading temperature, dewpoint, and barometric pressure. The winds too can get pretty strong with ground blizzards. He would also have to troubleshoot the equipment since he didn’t have a technician. No wonder he didn’t have time to clean out the flue of his stove. Thank you for being a pioneer Romeo Echo Bravo.

  2. Byrd really accomplished a lot during his lifetime but doing it alone is just a little bit overconfident as being in such a hostile environment I would think that taking someone along would be an intelligent thing to do.

    1. Undoubtedly true, but if most explorers did the intelligent thing, they would stay home. The dividing line between fame and folly is razor thin and going alone meant that Byrd danced on the razor’s edge. Had he failed, or been less bold, we probably wouldn’t be reading about him.

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