Posted on Thu, Mar. 20, 2008
PARTICIPATED IN `OPERATION HIGHJUMP’ Frozen in time: Sailor’s
South Pole memories In ’47, `Buck’ Newsom traveled to the
Antarctic, where his ship was docked in ice for 2 weeks MELINDA
JOHNSTON Special to the Observer
STEELE CREEK — Ever known anyone who visited the South Pole?
There is someone in Steele Creek who can claim that
Sixty-one years ago, Oliver Lyle “Buck” Newsom participated in
“Operation Highjump,” the first major naval expedition to the South
Newsom, 89, said he served in the Navy for 20 years, 1938-1958,
and visited almost every major port in the world. In 1949, he
married Gracie Mullis, and the two celebrated four children and 53
years of marriage before her death several years ago.
He raced motorcycles and cars. He rode a motorcycle across the
country three times. He flew planes and still has his pilot’s
But perhaps his most unique adventure was his trip to the South
Here’s how Newsom remembers it:
In December 1946, Newsom was quartermaster on the USS Yancey,
one of 13 ships participating in “Operation Highjump.” He was one
of 4,700 sailors assigned to travel to the bottom of the world to
survey the frozen continent and test new cold-weather gear and
The Yancey left from Port Hueneme, Calif., in December 1946 and
arrived in the Ross Sea in January 1947. From there it followed an
icebreaker ship, the USCGC Northwind, carefully navigating through
the ice chunks until it moored at the Bay of Whales on Jan. 18.
Newsom says he never went far from the ship, but he was able to
observe all the activity around him.
He watched as cargo was unloaded. He watched frogmen swim in the
frigid water to see how long they could tolerate the cold. He
watched sled dogs.
He ate chocolate bars retrieved from Little America — the
settlement where Adm. Richard Byrd left supplies and equipment
during his 1939 trip to Antarctica. (Since they had been frozen,
Newsom said the chocolate bars tasted fine, though they had turned
white around the edges.)
Looking around, he saw seals and “jillions of penguins” but not
He says the South Pole lighting presented a special challenge.
Part of his job was to help with navigation, and he was required to
take a star reading every morning and night. Trouble was, it was
summer, and it never got dark enough to see the stars.
“The sun never went down. We had to take readings of the sun and
moon,” Newsom said.
Each person on the trip had to fill out a report telling how
well their clothes, equipment, and any other items held up in the
“We tested all types of foul-weather gear and equipment to see
what would work best,” Newsom said.
After two weeks docked in the ice, the ships prepared to return
home. However, Yancey and the Merrick, another supply ship, ran
into a big storm coming out of the Ross Sea. Newsom saw the Yancey
lean 58 degrees, a dangerous angle, and the rudder on the Merrick
was almost severed. Newsom says his ship helped the Merrick limp
into New Zealand, where its rudder had to be reattached.
On May 2, the Yancey arrived at Port Hueneme full of sailors
with eyewitness accounts of a frozen land most folks would never
His assessment of his visit to the seventh continent?
“I wouldn’t trade nothing for it, but I wouldn’t give a dime
to go back.”