GROTON, Conn. (NNS) -- The crew of USS Annapolis (SSN 760) helped Harvard University keep a promise to honor two heroes and promote diversity this month during Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2009.
Annapolis took memorabilia to the North Pole this month to commemorate the historic expedition on April 6, 1909 when Rear Adm. Robert E. Peary and Matthew A. Henson were the first to reach the top of the world. The commemorative case, compiled by Harvard University, contained an American flag and Bible similar to ones taken during the original expedition and books by Peary and Henson.
The crew hosted a ceremony aboard Annapolis to return the case to a group of Harvard University staff, alumni and students April 23. The group traveled from Boston to Naval Submarine Base New London to take the case to Harvard, where it will be placed in the university archives "for present and future generations, to be used for scholarly and educational purposes."
"It was a true privilege for me and my crew to participate in this dramatic adventure. Not only was our time under the ice dramatic, the history lesson that we were able to obtain about the first exploration was truly satisfying for each of us," said Cmdr. Michael Brunner, commanding officer of Annapolis.
Dr. S. Allen Counter, director of the Harvard Foundation, spearheaded the Harvard North Pole Discovery Centennial Commemorative Project to celebrate the expedition and clarify the historic record recognizing the important contributions of Henson, who was African-American.
"These extraordinary men exhibited remarkable patriotism, leadership, perseverance and amazing skills in reaching the North Pole at a time that preceded modern technological guidance systems," said Counter, who also is a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. But, Counter said, Henson was ignored by the press and left out of the history books because of the social attitudes in the United States at the time.
This project, more than two decades in the making, worked to correct that and other portions of history.
Counter explained that about 20 years ago he was studying in Sweden when he was encouraged to go to Greenland to hear how the Inuit people also contributed to the Peary-Henson expedition. There he met the two sons Peary and Henson had fathered with Inuit women. Counter told Peary's son, Kali, and Henson's son, Anaukaq, both in their 80s then, that he would bring their children to the North Pole on the centennial anniversary.
Because of weakened ice, that could not happen. Planes could not land. That was when Counter contacted the Navy, specifically Vice Adm. Melvin G. "Mel" Williams Jr., commander, U.S. 2nd Fleet, for help.
"My role in this was very small. Four words: "Let's make this happen."
With that, the commemorative case made its way to the Arctic Circle, where Annapolis picked it up and took it to the North Pole.
"You could imagine my surprise when we were operating in the Arctic Circle and we do a surface at the ice cap and this huge box the size of this commemorative case shows up with my name on it," said Brunner.
Annapolis surfaced and was at the North Pole when it started its commemoration ceremony, which included Lt. Howard Craig, weapons officer, reading Henson's poem "Remembered By What I have Done."
"The truly great part that I really felt from this whole thing was the history lesson that I was able to learn from it. It was great to see how far our country and our Navy have come in the last one hundred years," said Brunner.
"I am so proud to be a part of a country and a Navy where men are recognized based on their character and their achievements and not by the color of their skin. It is just evident by the way we operate our submarine every day. We trust everyone on board, specifically for who they are and what they do, not because of where they are from or what their background was."
Williams, graduate of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government - Senior Executive Program in National and International Security, echoed that feeling.
"I truly believe that it's important that all of us recognize history, that we respect those who have gone before us and we celebrate and honor their exploits," said Williams.
"I think that honoring the exploits of Admiral Peary and Matthew Henson and all who achieved this adventure back a hundred years ago typifies the importance of diversity - that people from different backgrounds can achieve greatness. So, as we look toward the future, there are no obstacles. People with different backgrounds can come together to accomplish greatness."
For more news from Commander Submarine Group 2, visit www.navy.mil/local/Subgru2/.