Richard Blackburn Black, USNR

Base Commander

East Base






Born August 10, 1902, in Grand Forks, North Dakota, Richard Black graduated from the University of North Dakota with a degree in civil engineering in 1926. He worked as an engineer in Canadian gold mines and on the 29-mile tunnel to supply San Francisco with water from northern California .   From 1933 to 1935, he was a civilian member of the Byrd II Expedition.  Upon his return to the United States , Black became a field representative for the Division of Territories and Island Possessions of the U.S. Department of Interior.  As the administrator of the American equatorial islands of Jarvis, Baker, and Howland, he worked with native Hawaiians to develop agriculture and fisheries and constructed meteorological stations for the developing Pacific aviation industry. 


It was on Howland Island that Black supervised construction of the air strip for Amelia Earhart’s scheduled refueling stop.  Black was in the radioroom of the USCG Itasca as he listened to Earhart’s last known radio transmission indicating that she was low on fuel and was searching for Howland island. 


In 1938, Black received orders from Washington to take possession of the British islands of Canton and Enderbury in the South Pacific Phoenix group.  Accompanied by Marines and civilian workers, Black landed on the beach on Canton, informed the British official responsible for the island that he was taking possession of the island for the United States , and ordered the Marines to hoist the American flag.    


While Black served in the islands, he developed experience in landing heavy machinery and supplies from boats and pontoons under various surf and weather conditions, which would later prove useful in amphibious operations during World War II.


In 1938, Black became a lieutenant in the US Naval Reserves, attending the Operative Training School of the Office of Naval Intelligence.  A year later, Black was assigned to duty as the USAS base commander, East Base, U.S. Antarctic Expedition.


Upon the return of USAS personnel to the U.S. in May 1941, Black returned to civilian life until he was recalled to active duty as a lieutenant commander in August of the same year.  Stationed at Pearl Harbor, Black witnessed the Japanese attack.  Black requested forward area duty and was subsequently

assigned to the Advanced Base Section, Commander, Service Forces Pacific and served as beachmaster during the invasions of Tarawa, Kwajalein, Tinian, and Okinawa.  As senior beachmaster at Saipan, he was responsible for off-shore amphibious operations in which he directed the flow of Allied troops and material through a narrow channel to the beach as in the midst of incoming Japanese artillery and mortar fire.   For his bravery under fire Black was awarded a Bronze Star with Combat “V.”  At the close of hostilities Black returned to civilian life, having been promoted to the rank of commander.


Upon Black’s return to the Department of Interior, he worked to reconstruct the economy of the Micronesian Islands .  In 1950, he became an operations analyst at Johns Hopkins University in the Operations Research Office under contract to the U.S. Army.  This assignment took Black to Korea during the conflict to conduct cold weather logistical research.


In 1954, Black was again called to active duty in the Navy and was assigned to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations’ Antarctic Planning Group.  It was during this period that Black served as the Base Operations Officer of the first Deep Freeze expedition.  Black would continue service in Antarctica as the U.S. observer to the Belgian Antarctic Expedition (1960-1961) and in 1963, returned to Antarctica for the fifth and final time with Deep Freeze.


Retiring from the USNR as a rear admiral in 1962, Black worked on Antarctic related programs with the Office of Naval Research.  In 1967, Black retired from his long career of government service.


Black’s retirement was spent writing and lecturing about Antarctica and sailing his 60-foot yacht, Valkyrie, on the Chesapeake Bay.


Richard Black died at the age of 90 on August 11, 1992 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery .   Black’s first wife, Ruth Slayberg, died in 1932.  Black’s second wife of 55 years, Aviza Johnson Black, survived her husband.


Job Description:  Commander of East Base. In charge of all operations.


Geographical feature:  Black Coast








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