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
1933 to 1935, he was a civilian member of the Byrd II Expedition. Upon his return to the
, 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
It was on Howland
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
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
, and ordered the Marines to hoist the
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
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
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
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
In 1950, he became an operations analyst at
Operations Research Office under contract to the U.S. Army. This assignment took Black to
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
. 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