From Our Listeners


On Mondays, we read from your e-mails. And we start today with a correction. Last week I said that former President Jimmy Carter imposed the 55-mile-per-hour national speed limit. Walter Fox of Ferguson, Missouri, put the brakes on that idea to remind us that it was actually Richard Nixon who put the double nickel into effect.

Our segment on Vietnam veterans returning to that country brought in many recollections. Pat Hill Vandermullen(ph) wrote, `I returned to Vietnam over five years ago. This was my third tour, as I served two tours of duty as an Army nurse. This was the best and sweetest one because, in a place where I knew so much death, I found life. We adopted a four-month-old infant in Hanoi. Many people who met us asked if we were American, and they were very positive when we said yes. I would never have thought back then that I would walk the same streets in Saigon that I walked as a younger woman now with an infant in my arms.'

Another vet, Dennis Marks of Anchorage, Alaska, had a different experience in Vietnam. `While Vietnam is as interesting and beautiful as was described, bomb craters, destroyed monuments, recovering forests and soldiers' graveyards can be seen throughout the country, and we met many local people to whom the war was still a very sad and important issue. Yes, they're kind, incredibly forgiving, curious, respectful, and have certainly moved on with their lives, but the war continues to be on the minds of millions of Vietnamese.'

Also last week we spoke with Tom Avery, a man literally on top of the world at the North Pole. Mr. Avery organized the Barclays Ultimate North Expedition, which proved that explorer Admiral Robert Peary could have reached the North Pole by foot and sledge in just 37 days. While most of our conversation that day focused on the recent expedition, we received a number of e-mails with questions about Admiral Peary's original expedition. And joining us now is Susan Kaplan, director of the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum and Arctic Studies Center at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. That happens to be Robert Peary's alma mater.

Professor Kaplan, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

Professor SUSAN KAPLAN (Director, Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum and Arctic Studies Center, Bowdoin College): Nice to talk with you.

CONAN: This expedition of Admiral Peary's, this was not his first attempt to the Arctic.

Prof. KAPLAN: No, he had started to go to the Arctic in the late 1880s. Actually, 1886 was his first expedition, and he went to Greenland in an effort to penetrate and try and cross the Greenland ice cap.

CONAN: And was this expedition 20 years later, was that at least in part motivated--`Well, I've got to make it now, this may be my last chance'?

Prof. KAPLAN: I think so. By 1908, '09, which was the date of his last expedition, he was well into his 50s, had lost a number of his toes to frostbite, and I think that he realized that his days of being an explorer were numbered.

CONAN: We received some e-mails that asked about the roles of Frederick Cook and Matthew Hanson. Who were those two individuals? What was their involvement with Robert Peary?

Prof. KAPLAN: Well, Matthew Hanson was an assistant of Peary's. He was a black man who was initially taken on as a valet, but eventually became Peary's right-hand man and was on all of Peary's expeditions except the first. And people have wondered whether it was Peary or Hanson who was the first to walk across the ice at the North Pole.

Frederick Cook was an explorer who went to both the Arctic and the Antarctic. He was on one of Peary's expeditions, but then he launched an expedition of his own. And he claimed to be the first person to reach the North Pole a year before Peary had. And there are detractors of his claim as well.

CONAN: Now does last week's success, getting there in less than the time that Admiral Peary said he reached the pole, does that in your mind verify Peary's claim?

Prof. KAPLAN: The detractors will say no. Certainly, what it does is prove that he could make the speeds that he claimed to have made. But certainly if you're wondering whether this debate has been put to rest, it certainly hasn't. People will point to the fact that Peary had to do a round trip and get back to land, and there have been questions about whether he could have done it in the time allotted.

CONAN: Thanks very much.

Prof. KAPLAN: Nice talking with you.

CONAN: Susan Kaplan, professor of anthropology at Bowdoin College, director of the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum and Arctic Studies Center. And she spoke with us by phone from her office in Brunswick, Maine.

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CONAN: If you have questions, comments, corrections or critiques for us, the best way to reach us is by e-mail. The address: Please include your name, where you're writing from and any advice you think we might need on how to pronounce either.

In Washington, I'm Neal Conan, NPR News.

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