Paul A. Siple

Paul Allman Siple saw the first light of day on December 18, 1908, in Montpelier, Ohio. The proud parents were Clyde L. Siple and his wife Fannie Hope (Allman) Siple.

When Paul was about ten years of age the family moved to Erie, Pennsylvania, where two years later he joined the Boy Scouts of America. Merit badge work held the greatest interest for him and by the time he was eighteen, sixty of these badges had been earned.

Thinking of his efforts as an adventure in exploring, he applied himself to the study of insects, radio, woodwork, art, athletics, first aid, bee-keeping, and many other areas of science as well as pragmatic subjects.

It was during this period of time that Siple found the assurance of God for himself and wrote that,

"Only a Supreme Mind could have designed the harmonious and beautiful world of which I was becoming aware for the first time."

His first knowledge of Captain Robert F. Scott's ill-fated journey came during a Sea Scout session aboard the retired brig NIAGRA when his Sea Scout leader read the story to his troop. It was at that moment his first desire to visit distant, frozen lands was ignited.

Upon graduation from high school, he took a job working as an assistant draftsman for a year so that money could be saved for entering college. The following year he entered Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania and through the encouragement of Dr. Chester A. Darling, head of the Biology Department and a local Scoutmaster, chose biology for his major course in college.

Spring examinations terminated, the summer was spent working as a nature instructor in a boy's camp with honest intentions of returning to school for his sophomore year in September.

However, when class opened in the fall of 1928, Paul Siple was earning his sea-legs on board Commander Richard E. Byrd's Antarctic Expedition flagship CITY OF NEW YORK as the official representative of the Boy Scouts of America.

Siple spent the next eighteen months either at sea or on the Antarctic continent living like "civilized rats" in close quarters with 41 other men.

When the explorers returned to the United States in the spring of 1930, Siple began a series of extraordinary accomplishments. Returning to Allegheny College, he completed three years of study in two, thereby receiving his Bachelor of Science degree in biology in 1932.

Dr. Darling, his mentor, was instrumental in this rapid movement and Siple forever after acknowledged his regard for and gratitude to his dear friend. Siple participated in a lecture tour during the years 1930 and 1931, most often speaking to Boy Scout councils. On several of these occasions, he and Admiral Byrd lectured together.

His association and friendship with Richard E. Byrd had been incubated, given birth, and tightly interlocked until the Admiral's death on March 11, 1957.

Siple contained enough energy to have two books published by G.P. Putnam's Sons. A Boy Scout With Byrd saw print in the winter of 1931, followed by Exploring At Home in September of 1932.

The former book contains an appendix by James E. West, Chief Scout Executive, detailing the entire process that provided the opportunity for a Boy Scout to accompany the First Byrd Antarctic Expedition. I have to believe, however, that the most important piece of good fortune to enter Paul Siple's life occurred in Meadville, Pennsylvania in 1930.

On this rainy day occasion Siple met a young lady in the registrar's office at Allegheny College by the name of Ruth Ida Johannesmeyer and offered to drive her home.

All of the above not being enough, Siple decided to indulge himself in a knapsack field trip of foreign lands. In 1932, after the publication of his second book (which, incidentally, Miss Johannesmeyer helped Paul put together), he departed for a view of Europe (including the Soviet Union), Asia Minor and northern Africa.

While bumping across Egypt early in 1933, word was received from Admiral Byrd to hurry back to Boston, Massachusetts. The SECOND BYRD ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION was about to begin.

During this time in the Near East, Siple was influenced by an American geographer he met, leading him to choose geography as his future field of specialization. Not geography, per se, but rather the effects of geographical conditions on humans and their possessions.

Preparations for the expedition were proceeding in a rather hectic manner. In order to cut expenses Byrd, as he did for his first Antarctic expedition, asked the men who were to go along to agree to serve for $1 a year.

This done, financing and logistics were, relatively speaking, "nailed down" and Siple boarded a re-christened freighter, JACOB RUPPERT. With the chief Biologist aboard, the ship departed Bayonne, New Jersey on October 13, 1933, not to see the United States again until the expedition disbanded in 1935.

Several months passed after Siple's return to civilization tying up loose ends which included the placing of his lichens and moss specimens where they would be identified by specialists and catalogued.

In 1936 Siple wrote, and had published, his manuscript titled Scout to Explorer which was dedicated to Admiral Richard E. Byrd, describing the events of his second expedition as he had experienced them. But now it was time for Siple to decide on a wage-earning career.

This decision culminated in registration at Clark University, which was located in Worcester, Massachusetts, and earning his Ph.D. in geography in 1939.

His dissertation Adaptations of the Explorer to the Climate of Antarctica indicated his intentions of approaching geography through the door which opened to Climatology. Paul and Ruth Johannesmeyer, the young lady he met in the registrar's office at Allegheny College in 1930, tied the proverbial "knot" on December 29, 1936. Ruth remembers beginning their honeymoon driving to a seminar in Syracuse, New York.

Ruth had typed up Paul's thesis, but then had to bid her husband "au revoir" once again. In 1939, the United States found itself viewing the Antarctic continent with more than scientific eyes.

Politics now became a factor prompting the U.S. government not only to intrude into Byrd's plans for a third expedition but to literally take over. Rather than a "third Byrd" it was officially titled the UNITED STATES ANTARCTIC SERVICE EXPEDITION 1939-41 (the latter date after-the-fact due to the beginning of another World War).

Siple, at Byrd's urging, was assigned the leadership of the base set up at the Bay of Whales (a.k.a. West Base / Little America III) but additionally handled the logistics for the entire expedition.

He boarded the USMS NORTH STAR on November 21, 1939, as part of the package that intended to colonize Antarctica, and departed Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Returning home in the spring of 1941 when the USS BEAR arrived at Boston, Massachusetts he was met by a gentleman from the United States Quartermaster Corps who explained to him that the government required his help as a cold weather expert.

He also expressed the view that if we were to become involved in the war, fighting might take place in all climates.

Without hesitation, Siple joined forces with Uncle Sam, first as a civilian employee and then, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was commissioned as an army Captain. At the end of hostilities, he was honorably discharged as a Lieutenant Colonel.

Back in civilian clothes once more, he entered the Army Chief of Staff's Office of Research and Development as a scientist. This new job took him to a part of the world that had swung National Defense attention to the blank map areas of the Arctic Basin.

It is important to note here that experiments made by Siple and Charles F. Passel during the austral winter of the United States Antarctic Service Expedition firmed up Siple's earlier research on wind-chill factors.

An index of wind-chill numbers was derived and the findings were published in the journal of the American Philosophical Society. Another, even more wonderful, event had occurred on Siple's return. For the very first time, he met his first daughter, Ann Byrd Siple, born on June 9, 1940 during his absence with the USASE at Little America III.

It was on October 16, 1946 that Siple and Robert N. Davis, an analyst for the Strategic Air Command, accompanied a United States Air Force B-29 air crew on the first extended-long-range flight over the geographic North Pole. Major Maynard E. White, USAF, commander of the highly classified 46th/72nd Reconnaissance Squadron and "Project Nanook" also was aboard as an observer.

This mission was also the first ever made during the boreal night and, additionally, the first flight allowing the aviators to know the exact moment that the Pole was reached.

During these years of the late 1940's, studies were made by the reconnaissance squadron encompassing survival rations and equipment, navigational aids, weather reporting and national defense possibilities. Air searches for previously unknown land masses resulted in the locating of what appeared to be an island on October 14,1946 but proven later to be a floating ice island. Landings were made on TARGET-X, as it was designated, and determination was made that the island originated in a glacial fjord of Greenland.

The finding of TARGET-X (re-designated T-1), followed by discovery of T-2 and T-3 (later known as FLETCHER'S ICE ISLAND), opened the door to future use of these islands as mobile scientific stations. Siple, always willing to tackle another geographic phenomenon, sought to establish the rate of movement of the north magnetic pole and what would be the result should this pole and the geographic pole converge.

To this end, he worked with both the Air Force Reconnaissance Squadron operating out of Ladd Field in Fairbanks, Alaska (whose records were only de-classified in 1988) as well as Remington Rand Corp. laboratory experiments. Once again, however, Admiral Byrd enters the picture.

Byrd had gained the ear of the Secretary of the Navy as well as that of the Chief of Naval Operations, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, resulting in an enormous naval operation impressively titled the UNITED STATES NAVY ANTARCTIC DEVELOPMENTS PROGRAM 1946-47, but better known as OPERATION HIGHJUMP. Siple departed Norfolk, Virginia, on December 2, 1946 aboard the USS MOUNT OLYMPUS (AGC-8) as Scientific and Polar Advisor as well as Senior Representative of the U.S. War Department.

A tent city was established at Little America IV in the Bay of Whales just adjacent to the air strip built to handle the reconnaissance planes due to arrive from the aircraft carrier USS PHILIPPINE SEA (CV-47) laying just outside the pack ice. Admiral Byrd was coming in on the first plane.

Even these responsibilities filling his mind, he found his thoughts ever more on his family life when away from home. Ruth had presented him with a second daughter, Jane Siple, on October 11, 1942 and a third daughter, Mary Siple, on October 26, 1946 just two months before embarking on OPERATION HIGHJUMP.

At the other end of the emotional scale came news of his father's death just as he was approaching the Antarctic coast. Later, word arrived of his mother breaking her hip. Had someone, perhaps, shot an albatross on the way south?

By April 1947 most of the ships and men involved with the expedition were back in the United States. Much had been accomplished in the last four months, both at Little America IV and along the coastline of the continent. Politics and post-war economy interfered with a proposed OPERATION HIGHJUMP II set previously for 1949-50.

However, it was allowed that a follow-up expedition take place in the austral summer of 1947-48 known as the US NAVY SECOND ANTARCTIC DEVELOPMENTS PROJECT, or OPERATION WINDMILL.

This involved two Navy icebreakers, USS BURTON ISLAND and USS EDISTO, to provide geodetic ground control to match parts of certain photographs taken from OPERATION HIGHJUMP aircraft. Siple was not a member of this strictly Navy project.

For the remainder of his life Siple continued as a cog in the wheels of the Research and Development Office of the U.S. Army. More precisely, Special Scientific Advisor, Army Research Office, Office of the Chief of Research and Development, Department of the Army.

An appropriate handle for a scientist who held eight patents for the development of clothing, protective devices and building design. His research extended not only to the polar regions but encompassed desert, mountain and humid tropical conditions. Seven continents and most major island masses have held the weight of his body and bear his footprints. During the Korean War (1950-53) he traveled the length of the battle lines, on which American military personnel were risking their lives, checking on the equipment.

A seed had been planted in Siple's mind in the early 1950's when whispers of renewed national interest in Antarctica began to be heard. He wanted to know if these concerns were good or bad and, in order to find out he joined with those who were involved. Then, suddenly, our national interests bumped into the international geophysicists' desire for an International Geophysical Year.

Siple's participation eventually evolved into his acceptance of Director of Scientific Projects for OPERATION DEEPFREEZE I, 1955-56.

The National Program, our Defense Department and the IGY became bed-fellows and Siple was in the thick of it. In the course of planning the part that the United States would play, agreement was reached to provide scientific stations in Marie Byrd Land (Byrd Station), on the Filchner Ice Shelf (Ellsworth Station) and on the Clark Peninsula (Wilkes Station).

Pushing their luck even further, it was suggested that a station be constructed and manned at Latitude 90 degrees South. Silence prevailed as the air was expelled from the lungs of the conference delegates. This decision was put on hold.

Siple was excused from his duties with the Army by the Department of Defense and ordered to take over the scientific projects for Task Force 43. South Pole Station was given the go-ahead, but a support base had to be built at McMurdo Sound.

An additional station, Little America V, was also required near the old site of the former Little America(s) to provide support for the building of Byrd Station. On December 18, 1955, Siple arrived at McMurdo Station which coincided with his 47th birthday. On January 8, 1956, he made a flight to the South Pole with Admiral Byrd, Officer in Charge of the U.S. Antarctic Programme 1955-57.

A landing was prohibited but he had wanted in the worst way to examine the surface conditions on the plateau. On February 3, 1956, both men returned to the United States. Byrd had no way of knowing that this would be the last time he would ever see the Antarctic continent. At this point, prior to Deepfreeze II 1956-57, Siple gave little thought of returning to the continent himself, let alone spending another austral winter there.

He would soon be 48 years of age and fondly hoped that he would spend his daughter's teen-age years at home with them. Further he was deeply displeased with the decision that the IGY stations would have split commands whereby there would be a scientific leader and a military leader.

He fended off several requests to take over as scientific leader at the South Pole but, once again, he found it impossible to say "no" to his friend Admiral Byrd and the U.S. Department of Defense. Only one consolation was offered in that if he was not satisfied that it would be safe to live at the Pole, he could call it off.

"Write me often," Siple said emotionally to his family and friends as he boarded the plane which would carry him on the first leg of his journey to the very end of the earth. It was October 4, 1956, another rainy day. Towards the end of the month, he found himself aboard the first U.S. Air Force plane to fly over the South Pole (it did not land), giving him the distinction of having been aboard the first two USAF aircraft to fly over the geographic poles.

On November 20, 1956, the advance construction party was flown to the plateau site to begin erection of the station, but Siple was not permitted to board a plane at McMurdo until November 30th.

Navy yeoman Robert Chaudoin, temporary postal clerk at the station, broke out his equipment and struck a December 15, 1956 cancel on nearly a quarter-million pieces of mail which had arrived by plane.

Pole Station, Antarctica, was now for real. On October 27, 1957, after eight months of isolation, a C-124 appeared overhead and air-dropped a load of supplies and personal mail. Thoughts of loved ones and friends intensified.

November 30, 1957, after exactly one year to the day since his arrival at the Pole, Siple shaved off his beard, put on clean clothes, packed his gear, said a silent prayer of thanksgiving, took a last look at the plateau, then entered the door of his plane.

He had a one-way ticket to McMurdo, then on to Christchurch, New Zealand where the rain was pelting down.

Eighteen men had witnessed the sunset and sunrise on the South Polar Plateau for the first time in history. During his time at the Pole he had been featured on the front cover of the December 31, 1956 issue of Time magazine and his article, We are Living at the South Pole, was published in the July, 1957 issue of the National Geographic Magazine.

Five months after his return to civilization, Siple received the prestigious Hubbard Medal during a ceremony at the National Geographic Society headquarters. The affair took place on March 28, 1958, and was described in the National Geographic issued June, 1958.

A previous article by Siple, Man's First Winter at the South Pole, had appeared in the April, 1958 issue. The following year his book 90 Degrees South, a compendium of his life as well as the time spent at the South Pole, appeared in bookstore windows.

These products from the mind of Paul Siple were completed while he thrived in the atmosphere of a loving home and a job he relished at the Army Research Office.

From 1963-66 he served as the first U.S. Scientific Attache to Australia and New Zealand, bridging together scientists of all disciplines. While performing these duties at Wellington, New Zealand in June, 1966, he suffered a partial paralytic stroke and had to return to the United States. For more than two years, his smile and good humor never failing, he continued to work with the Army - his left arm in a sling and a four-legged crutch grasped in his right.

On November 25, 1968 he answered the summons of his Creator having sustained a fatal heart attack while seated at his desk. He was just 59 years of age.

Russell Owen, a correspondent for the New York Times, was assigned the coverage of the first Byrd Antarctic Expedition of 1928-30 as a wintering-over member. In 1934 Owen's book, South of the Sun, was published describing his experiences at Little America I during those years.

He used a rather peculiar style of referring to the expedition members within its pages - a style that this writer was unfamiliar with - in that given names were not used but, rather, title, occupation, or job description. For example, Lawrence Gould, geologist and second in command, was referred to as "the Geologist".

Captain Ashley McKinley, aerial surveyor and third in command, was always alluded to as "the Captain," and so on. If one were not familiar with the names of the residents of Little America I from other sources, Owen's literary effort would be quite confusing and less than informative. However, out of this muddle there were a few easily recognized personalities such as "the Commander" (Cdr. Byrd) and "the Boy Scout" (Paul A. Siple).

The Boy Scout was as readily known then as he is even today, i.e. "The Eagle Scout who went with Byrd to the Antarctic".

Here is the way Owen described the young man who was later to become one of the greatest polar explorer / scientists of this century.

"Perhaps no Boy Scout ever so belied his name. He was six feet tall, weighed in mid-winter more than two hundred pounds and had had his twenty-first birthday on the ice. He worked hard, kept his mouth shut, listened without comment to the ribaldry that went on about him, and never took part in it. He had the poise of a much older and experienced man."

A succinct resume that indicates a familiarity with, and admiration for, this exemplary representative of the Boy Scouts of America. It is a well known dictum that in the Antarctic one can not hide one's real nature.

It is safe to say that Siple maintained the admirable qualities mentioned by Owen for the rest of his life judging by the four books he has authored, the comments of other writers who came to know him and the average person meeting him in more relaxed moments.

This huge man with a gentle soul once wrote that he could be caught wasting time as much as the next guy, lolling in the sand at the beach, attending social functions, taking in a good movie, reading whatever literature first came to his hand, keeping physically fit and enjoying athletics. At any point in time, one could accurately describe Paul Siple as a man's man. He was curious, yes, but not singly so.

James E. West, Chief Scout Executive in 1928, wrote that,

"the choice of Paul Siple, (to join the Byrd Expedition) I think, can be fully understood when his peers, the Scouts competing for the appointment, agreed that Scout Siple would be one of the two persons each would want as a companion if it were possible to send three Scouts to the Antarctic."

In other words, he was chosen as the candidate for participation in Byrd's expedition by his actual competition. Those judging the scouts added that,

"...he is the type of boy that is always smiling; he is energetic; he has splendid leadership qualifications."

Not only in 1928, but as late as 1957 at South Pole Station he was described, at 48 years of age, to be the first to dig-in (literally, in the snow mine), the last to seek warmth, and physically outperformed men many years his junior in the thin air of the plateau.

Firm in his decisions as to what he considered best for his fellow scientists and the navy men at the station, he initiated seminars and lectures in lieu of "daily" Hollywood movies. In spite of extreme cold temperatures averaging between -60 and -80 degrees F. and dipping as low as -102 degrees F. on September 17, 1957, he and Navy Lt. (j.g.) John Tuck (military leader at the station) took star shots to determine, as closely as possible, the location of the geographic South Pole.

Years later, after having spent four winters and ten summers on the continent of Antarctica, Siple's behavior was that of the same boy described by James West in 1928.

Paul Siple, explorer, scientist, inventor, environmentalist, was above all else a Boy Scout and remained so during his life. He has told us that his Scout training formed the wedge which allowed him to remain at Little America I in 1929.

He believed, and convinced Larry Gould, that he could provide penguin and seal skins for the American Museum of Natural History which the geologist had promised but would not be able to furnish himself due to more pressing obligations to the expedition.

In this manner he met Byrd's criteria that,

"...everyone who stays on the ice will have to have a reason."

 Siple's journey of a thousand miles began with that first step in January 1929.

For generations to come the name Siple will be evident to those who study and / or visit the Antarctic Continent. On Siple Island (located at 73° 39'S, 125° 00'W) can be found Mount Siple (73° 15'S, 126° 06'W). If one may be inclined to traverse to Siple Coast it will be found at 82° 00'S, 155° 00'W. Then in 1969 the United States constructed a scientific installation at 76°S, 84' W in Ellsworth Land and named it Siple Station. Siple and Byrd were once again "together" (Byrd Station had been opened in 1957 in Marie Byrd Land).

Friendships do not really end with the passing of bosom friends. Sometimes those left behind see to it that names are linked together as long as metal and stone can withstand rust and disintegration.

On June 21, 1993 a ceremony took place in Wellington, New Zealand at the Admiral Richard E. Byrd Memorial whereby the monument's restoration and rededication were solemnized. At this time a plaque was added at the foot of this artistically clad shrine honoring the late Paul A. Siple's accomplishments as well as his close partnership with Byrd.

These two friends, the Admiral and the Boy Scout, are again linked together as they were way back there on the ice in 1929. *


* This article was reproduced by permission from the author, Joseph Lynch, Jr., a fellow polar philatelist specializing in Byrd I, II, III and Operation Highjump; from a series in the "Ice Cap News", the official journal of the American Society of Polar Philatelists. (Vol. 40, No. 3 & 4; Vol 41, No. 1 & 2)