Sunday, September 07, 2008

Rear Admiral George J. Dufek

I had the privilege and pleasure of sitting next to the widow of Admiral Dufek at a dinner last night. She told the table that Admiral Dufek was the first American on the South Pole. Nearly everyone did a sort of double-take and I think several weren't really sure. My dinner companion was, after all, in her mid-nineties, and, at the large table, maybe she really wasn't being heard very well.

I certainly knew better than to doubt her in the least, because last night was not the first time I had met her. She leaned over and whispered to me, "When you get home, just Google Dufek on the interent."

(I found this, for example.)

Admiral Dufek commanded "Operation Deepfreeze" in 1954. I was 9 years old at the time, and I remember reading about that expedition in a little newspaper that was distributed to elementary school children called My Weekly Reader. (The story was all over the media, in fact. I read about it in Life Magazine and in the National Geographic Magazine. It had the sort of public interest that the space program was to enjoy a decade or so later.) That article led me to read about one of Adm. Dufek's mentors, the Navy explorer Admiral Richard E. Byrd, whose bestselling book Alone, was part of our family's small library.

She and her family lived all over the world. At one point, she told me, they were stationed in Micronesia, and there they witnessed three Atom Bomb tests.

She also said that Adm. Dufek and John McCain's father were classmates at the Naval Academy, and that she knows Sen. McCain's mother well and, of course, knows the Senator. Mrs. Dufek mentioned the time when "John's father" ordered the bombing of Hanoi, knowing full well that his son was kept in prison there.

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