Bravo for Bravo
In 1956, I was just a pup. I woke up one morning six feet from the floor, cradled in the warm hands and silky beard of a tall man, John Tuck, Jr., a Naval Seabee officer known as Jack. My name is Bravo. I was born at McMurdo Station in the Antarctic. Jack’s job was to handle sled dogs. My job was to follow Jack around.
“How’s that pup of yours?”asked an older trainer, Dutch Dolleman.
“Bravo’s growing bigger every day, watches everything like he knows something important is going to happen.” Jack replied setting me down in the dog pen. Jack smelled like leather, he and Dutch were making sled dog harnesses.
I ran over to Mom who sniffed me all over. She said that Dutch knew a lot about dogs and surviving in cold climates. Settlements would be built around Antarctica as the International Geophysical Year was starting, the first worldwide scientific survey of our planet. Scientists would come from all over the world to study the climate, the environment, and atmosphere. My brother and I do our own studies of the environment at our dog hut, “Dogheim”. We sniff the frosty air and smell penguins. We dig the hard packed ice and find more ice. We watch the sky come alive with shooting, waving colors at night, it makes our hair stand on end.
“Mom, what’s your job when you are done raising us?” I asked as I burrowed into her thick fur.
“We dogs are here just in case,” Mom said, “If any transport planes land and can’t get back to McMurdo, then drivers, dogs, and sleds would be dropped by parachutes for a rescue operation.”
“Yikes! I’m glad we’re not sled dogs yet!”
I wandered outside and listened to Jack and Dutch. Jack had graduated from Dartmouth College and studied reindeer in Greenland. When he heard about this opportunity, he wanted the Navy to send him. He worked with the other Seabees gathered around Dick Bowers, the building leader. I loved listening to the plans for the pole. Dick was warning the guys about the dangerous, difficult adventure ahead.
“No one has attempted this before. We’ll be about 850 miles inland from here and 9000 feet about sea level. We’ll be flown in by ski planes and our supplies will be dropped from the air. October is the start of summer here so we can expect temperatures to rise to around zero degrees. We will have some blizzards but the sun will be visible until March.”
“What’s the first building to be erected?” asked Jack.
“We’ll build a Quonset hut with a heater and cook stove. Some men may sleep in tents and some will sleep inside,” Dick answered. “We’ll use the bulldozer to even out the ice and snow for the bases of all the other buildings, if it drops from the plane safely.”
“Heater and cook stove,” sounded good to my puppy ears. I wasn’t sure about bulldozers falling from the sky, that sounded scary!. Our mom taught us survival skills such as digging into the snow to keep warm in a blizzard. I was hoping these men knew how to dig in too!
The time of departure for the pole arrived, but so did bad weather. After several days of frantic activity, the men and equipment settled down like new fallen snow. Piles of bags were everywhere and the sled dogs, going to the pole, were snoozing.
“Why aren’t they more excited?” I yipped to my brother, as I paced in my pen pleading to go. I wanted to be with the guys; Jack, Bowers, Bristol, Woody, Montgomery, Nolen, Randall, and Powell. No one had ever lived at the pole, it was an awful place. Now these men were going to build places to live for the winter and carry out science projects like: movement of glaciers, gravity experiments, seismology studies, the airglow and auroras, geomagnetism, ionosphere physics, and cosmic rays.
I sensed that these brave men were anxious, but they were strong and smart too. I loved to watch them work together, joking as they got a lot done. I wanted to be part of the fun and work with Jack!
On November 20, 1956, I watched two ski planes with Jack, Lt. Bowers and his crew of builders, and eleven sled dogs take off. A third ski plane carried more men, and big Globemaster planes flew along to help locate the Pole, drop the dog food, sled and harnesses, and heavy equipment. I thought my heart would break when Jack climbed into the plane and disappeared. I ran in circles in my pen until Old Dutch came over and held me tightly against his big jacket.
“He’ll be back. He’ll be OK,” Dutch kept telling me.
“ 29 degrees below zero at the pole, the men are in tents and the dogs are sleeping outside,” I heard the radioman report to Dutch. Brrrr! Supplies were streaming onto the pole damaged, because the ropes tying them to parachutes broke when released from the supply planes. One bulldozer buried itself thirty feet in the snow. Parachutes would land and sail away across the snow because of high winds. I love to chase things, but the men were getting tired of chasing them down, and wanted to solve the problem.
A week later the scientist, Dr. Siple, came to visit Dutch. He said that mail was delivered for the first time at the South Pole. Dr. Siple was a big man, a leader. I sat and behaved myself when he was around. He told Dutch that Jack had been asked to be the Navy officer in charge at the pole
“You’re mighty lucky,” he told Siple, “Jack’s as fine as they come. This pup Bravo, you’ve been eyeing as mascot for the Pole Station will be all yours now. He’s really Jack’s dog, and Jack will insist on having him.”
Jack came back to McMurdo to work out a solution for the wrecked supplies. I turned myself inside out, I was so glad to see him! Jack let me roam around with him and played tug of war with me. He tied supplies onto wooden pallets and wrapped them in canvas. Hopefully these pallets would drop safely. Besides building materials, delicate scientific equipment would be flown in by ski planes along with nine scientists led by Dr. Paul Siple.
“I just heard the admiral has appointed you as the Navy support officer in charge at the pole this winter. Long, dark days in that awful cold, what are you going to do for entertainment?” Dutch said, smiling at Jack, but winking at me.
“Dutch, we’ve seen most of the movies by now. The men like to read and we plan to give lectures.” Jack turned and looked at me. I sat very still except for my tail, which couldn’t help but wag.
“What do you say, Bravo? Do you want to spend the winter with eighteen guys and a lot of cold weather?” Jack asked as he hugged me. I licked his bearded face and howled in delight. All I needed was to be with Jack. We were off on a great adventure!
By Sarah Tuck Gillens
Sarah Gillens lives in Plainfield, NH, is an Medical Technologist and writes stories that will interest children in science and history. Finding her distant relative, Jack Tuck, led to this story about Jack’s dog, Bravo