Magnificent and desolate with air so clean you can see for miles.
That's how Don Epperson describes Antarctica.
Duty to the
Naval Reserve took him to the stark land twice before, but it is
Don's dream to again, one day, sail in the ice.
will be the ultimate fulfillment,” he says.
In the 1960s,
Don served as a communications officer aboard the USS Glacier, which
initially brought him to Antarctica.
cruise was approximately six months in duration,” Don explains.
“We would leave our homeport, which was Boston, in August,
sail south to the Caribbean, go through the Panama Canal, and head
across the Pacific Ocean to Christchurch, New Zealand, which was
our home away from home. There we would re-supply, refuel, and then
head south to Antarctica and the Ross Ice Shelf, which is where
McMurdo Sound, the main U.S. base is located.
Among his favorite
memories of the trip are the “evenings” Don spent alone
He says, “Remember
the sun never sets during the Antarctic summer, so it actually broad
daylight. If we were tied up to a large ice flow and no one else
was around, it was amazing quiet, and beautiful, looking at the
enormous glaciers and tabular ice flows nearby.”
international organization The Glacier Society, of which Don is
a member, is working on restoring the two ships that they now own—the
Glacier and the Arctic Scout. The Glacier, called an icebreaker,
was originally launched in 1954 and made 29 total cruises until
it was retired in 1987. The ship first served the Navy and later
the Coast Guard.
that the United States has several bases on Antarctica, and the
Glacier went down there to escort supplies needed to replenish those
bases. The big station was the McMurdo Station, located south of
all about maintaining a presence in Antarctica,” Don notes.
Don says the
United States has not funded the ice breaking operations as much
as needed, so if the Glacier can become operational again, it could
pick up the slack. The USS Glacier is one the few ships that can
go into the ice packs. The State of Alaska is interested in the
icebreaker so that it may deliver medical supplies to the natives
of the Arctic Circle; the idea is to use the ship as a medical platform.
The Arctic Scout,
a 39-foot arctic survey boat, was the vessel carried aboard the
Glacier and is currently at Brewer Pilot's Point Marina in Westbrook
and will remain, once restored, in Connecticut to train boys and
girls over age 14 in the Sea Cadets, Sea Scouts, or other maritime-oriented
youth organizations. It is scheduled to go into the water this summer.
hopeful for early summer,” says Don.
Don is serving
as a youth leader for the Arctic Scout.
is a way to give back,” he says. “You want to do something
fun but hopefully will have some benefit.”
For Don, it's
not just about having the Glacier restored; it's about teaching
kids sea navigation skills aboard the Arctic Scout.
it's important to offer an exposure to this,” says Don. “Here's
a way to open up a whole area.”
In order to
restore the Glacier to its original shape, professionals must be
hired, because the volunteers, who spend their own money to travel
to San Francisco to restore the ship, have taken it as far as they
can. The work with the ships started about five years ago when crewmembers
from the original ship asked that it be saved.
Society is on the verge of raising millions in order to move the
Glacier to a shipyard on the West Coast in order to do the major
work that it needs, such as rebuilding engines and getting new navigational
and radar systems.
once a navigator on the Glacier, is the point person for fundraising
and recruited Don to help him raise money.
Don has been
working with Ben over the last few years to organize and fundraise.
Don explains that a lot of ships that are restored are sent to museums.
The Glacier, however, is going back into commission and will be
an operational ship once again. Don considers going back into commission
and serving as a medical platform to be two “give backs”
of the ship.
Once the Glacier
is moved to another shipyard it will take about four years to restore.
Don is now in
his third career—he retired from the Naval Reserve after 20
years, retired from GE Medical Systems about three years ago, and
is now a Realtor for Coldwell Banker in Madison. Don has been married
for 40 years to Mary Ann. The couple, Madison residents since the
late 1970s, has two grown sons, Don Jr. and Jon, and three grandchildren.
He is a member of the North Madison Congregational Church, where
he's been a mentor for kids going through Confirmation and is part
of the executive committee.
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