Letters from the USS Glacier to Phyllis at Vassar

The following is a collection of letters that one of our members, Ross Hatch, wrote to his then-fiancée while aboard the Glacier during Operation Deepfreeze. The views expressed in these letters may not reflect those of the Glacier Society.

Number 1 (2 Nov 1959 -165 days until we return)

Dear Phyll,

GLACIER left Boston and passed through New York where my father waved to us from the pier near his office. Captain Porter gave him three toots on the ship’s whistle in return. Now we are on our way to New Zealand and the ice… A NY Times reporter is on board, so please save any articles about us.

With mail coming at odd times and in batches, it’s good we are numbering our letters so we can read them in order.

Number 18 ( 145 more days)

It was great talking to you. – but I hope I didn’t wake up the whole dorm. In my defense, we had been trying to raise the East Coast since 3PM. They say that the ham radio is a great morale builder. I know I feel less lonely after that call.
Please send me your ring size, and let me know if you still want a miniature Academy ring for our official engagement.

Number 21 (133 more days)

We left New Zealand at midnight when we heard that the plane carrying mail would arrive early at Little America. It might be a problem getting there before the plane leaves because we are in the middle of pack ice which will slow us down.

This morning we had our first glimpse of Mt. Erebus, the volcano near McMurdo Base. It was 44 miles away, but optical inversions made it visible to us at that distance.

The scenery is impressive. – The pack with blue glacial pieces, the ice shelf towering up a hundred feet and stretching for miles, the glaciers with their vast crevasses – and Mt. Erebus, thirteen thousand feet high, rising above everything.

We’ve been in a few whiteouts, and they are unbelievable. The sunlight reflects back and forth between the ice and the clouds, and I feel as though I’m in the middle of a huge white sphere – like being in a snow globe. There is no horizon, just a white sheet everywhere…

Although it is hard to be away from you, I wouldn’t swap this experience for any other duty I can name.

Number 28 (114 more days)

We put a boat in the water for an inspection and found bent and broken blades on both propellors. We’ll have to replace them when we refuel in Wellington. The crew is excited about staying longer because they had quite a time there last year.

If you see anything in the NY Times about GLACIER wintering over ( June- Aug), don’t worry. The only way that could happen is if we got seriously stuck in the ice, and the chance of that is about one in a thousand. The journalists know we are being provisioned, and they may sensationalize the story.

Number 47

On Feb.14th we steamed deeper into the Ammundsen Sea than anyone ever has and continued on to the Thurston Peninsula. We reached the coast, and the helo put an automatic weather station ashore. This operation will involve lots of data collection.

It was getting dark, and, as we neared land, we came slightly left to avoid what looked like a small berg. Thank God we did, because after we passed, we could see that it was an ice- covered rock pinnacle. That could have caused serious damage. I had the watch and was responsible for the ship, so I worried that we might hit another hazard or go aground. I felt very relieved when the Captain said we should stop for the night…

In the morning, we edged through a narrow pass that ran between a huge berg and a glacial ice shelf. Towering ice on either side, the ship moving dead slow, and all eyes on the fathometer. We reached the easternmost point, and then rode into uncharted waters…

It’s Feb.17,1960, and GLACIER is the first ship of any nation to have penetrated the Bellinghausen Sea!

The area is desolate – Not many animals near land, but penguins, orcas and seals in the pack where there is plankton to start the food chain..

The ice is continually moving. There may be huge stretches of open water, then the wind shifts and moves the pack so the whole area becomes a solid mass of ice. We are built for breaking ice, but it can be a challenge. The coast is a rolling plain of virgin snow with bare rocks sticking up. It’s beautiful in a weird way, and I wish you could see it with me

We’ve received congratulatory messages from Secretary of Defense, the Chief of Naval Operations, and some Russian whalers. The word is out that we’ve made history – but we know we’ve just started. The journalists have been sending copy back, so you’ll be seeing articles.

Last night we received a message that Queen Elizabeth of England has a new son, and we started kidding the Commodore about sending congratulations. He picked up on the idea, so I drafted a message that went out this morning.

It started in a grandiose way: “From the frozen wastes of the Bellinghausen Sea, first penetrated this week, by the USS GLACIER…” We were pleased to get a gracious reply from Her Majesty.

It’s now Feb 25th. As we left the Bellinghausen, we got orders to aid an Argentinian icebreaker, the San Martin. She’s stuck hard in the ice north of us. I’ll tell you all about it in the next letter. There will probably be more rescues – and certainly more exploring.

Keep studying. I’d hate to have your parents think I lowered your grades when I’m not even there.

All my love, Ross

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