Greely Expedition on PBS

Posted by puguh on Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Greely Expedition on PBS. PBS documentary tells tragic story of Greely Expedition. The public television documentary series "American Experience" features a story tonight about the American military leader whose name is attached to Fort Greely.

The program focuses on an 1881 expedition that Alaska author Alden Todd captured in his book, "Abandoned: The Story of the Greely Arctic Expedition 1881-1884."

The post near Delta was dedicated in memory of Maj. Gen. Adolphus Washington Greely on Aug. 8, 1955, 20 years after his death.

His son, John, a retired brigadier general in the U.S. Army, attended the dedication as the guest speaker, recalling the life of his dad, who entered the Army as a private in 1861 and retired as a major general.

"He was a young man with a New England conscience when the Civil War came," John said. "The state of Massachusetts would not take volunteers under 18 and he wouldn't lie about his age, so he chalked 17 on the soles of his shoes and swore he was over 17. That seemed to satisfy everybody."

As part of the first International Polar Year, 25 volunteers commanded by Adolphus Greely traveled to Ellesmere Island in northern Canada on an 1881 expedition, carrying supplies for one year.

A relief ship had to turn back in 1882 and the ice destroyed a second supply ship in 1883, leaving Greely’s party in desperate conditions.

Nineteen of the men died during the ordeal and rescuers described the survivors as "living skeletons."

Following the return of the six survivors, accusations of murder and cannibalism appeared in newspapers across the country. Todd writes that it was a "disgusting orgy of a nation's free press running riot."

In the introduction to Todd’s book, explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson wrote that the author exonerated most of the survivors with his painstaking approach to gathering the facts. "By these contributions he has increased both the stature and the verisimilitude of Greely and his men," Stefansson wrote.

Greely lived to the age of 91 and was only the second person, the first being Charles Lindbergh, to receive the Medal of Honor for service during peacetime.

As head of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, he pushed for construction of the land line telegraph system and a cable that connected Alaska to the United States a century ago.

"Father did much more before he retired," his son said at the 1955 dedication of Fort Greely. "He organized San Francisco after the fire when he was in command as a major general there. He was the Army representative at the coronation of George V of England. After retirement he wrote and studied until he died."

"Many of his books were about Alaska and the north, for this is what interested him most. To me, it is entirely fitting that this far-looking and farthest north of our Army forts should have been selected by those who admire him to perpetuate his name. It would have made him, as it does me, very proud."

John Greely then presented the post with a bas-relief that showed his father "As I remember him before he died."

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