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Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
Her column and blog rolled into one

A trip to Antarctica

Last week I had the good fortune to interview 95-year-old Anthony Wayne, the last living member of the crew that accompanied Admiral Richard E. Byrd to Antarctica in 1939. Wayne is the only person alive now to have set foot on the icy continent prior to World War II, according to John Stewart, author of the two-volume “Antarctica: An Encyclopedia.”

Today Wayne lives at Kingsway Manor Assisted Living in Schenectady. But in 1939 he was a young sailor on the USS Bear, one of two ships that transported supplies such as sled dogs and seaplanes to the Arctic, responsible for inspecting and repairing lines and sails and steering the ship — “doing anything that has to be done to keep the ship going,” Wayne told me.

Several explorers — Roald Amundsen, Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton — made notable trips to Antarctica during the early decades of the 20th Century. Byrd came a bit later: his first expedition to Antarctica ran from 1928 to 1930, and his second expedition from 1933 to 1935, and he benefited from technological advantages that were unavailable to his predecessors, such as radios and snow cruisers. But that doesn’t mean Byrd had it easy, Stewart said. “It was very primitive,” he said. “At any point, you could get stuck in ice. When you’re stuck in ice, in intense cold, you think, ‘Am I going to get out of this?’”

Wayne took numerous photographs of his journey, including a haunting black-and-white image of the USS Bear trapped between two icebergs. He said he was able to disembark from the ship and walk around while waiting for the ice to separate. To the young Wayne, Antarctica sounded like an exciting adventure. “I thought, ‘Who the hell goes there?’” Wayne recalled. “I was never sorry I went, but I was glad I came back. ... I thought I’d never survive.”

Wayne was a lot of fun to interview, mainly because he was so eager to share his experiences and show off his photographs. Toward the end of our talk, he mentioned that he’d brought a movie camera along on the trip, and that the footage he recorded was on five DVDs. I couldn’t believe my ears. Footage of Wayne in Antarctica? It sounded almost too good to be true. When I asked whether I could borrow the DVDs and watch them, Wayne told me that the images weren’t very good and that there was no sound. “I’m not a professional,” he said. But he let me take the DVDs back to the office anyway, and there I was able to view the grainy black-and-white footage of Wayne’s trip: Wayne on the USS Bear, Wayne talking to Admiral Byrd, the Bear traveling through the Panama Canal, Wayne chasing penguins, Wayne teasing a seal. It was a bit like cracking open a time capsule, and I remain grateful to Wayne for allowing me to see what he experienced.

Online Editor Jeff Haff created a short video from Wayne’s footage. He did a really nice job with it, and you can view the video here.

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