|William E. Molett|
Today (Thursday) marks the anniversary of the passing of one of the most interesting men to ever come out of Conecuh County – William E. Molett, who passed away at the age of 86 on March 26, 2005.
Molett has faded from the memories of most living Conecuh County residents today, but a few remain who remember him from his younger days in the Evergreen area. Molett (some say this family name was pronounced “mallet,” like a hammer) was born in Orrville in Dallas County on Jan. 26, 1919. His family later moved to Conecuh County while he was still a young man.
Molett entered local schools, where his early education obviously went a long way toward preparing him for a career full of accomplishments. On May 3, 1936, Molett graduated from the State Secondary Agricultural School in Evergreen. From there, he went on to join the U.S. military and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley, the Air War College and the Air Force’s Staff and Command School.
Molett went on to become a master navigator, recording over 6,000 hours as an aircraft navigator, including 91 flights over the North Pole. He also taught polar navigation for three years and retired as a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force.
After his retirement, Molett wrote and published a book in 1996 called “Robert Peary and Matthew Henson at the North Pole.”
The premise of the book centers on the dispute over which group of explorers reached the North Pole first during expeditions in 1908 and 1909. I was surprised to learn that there is more than a little controversy over who accomplished this feat first. One camp believes that Dr. Frederick A. Cook reached the North Pole first while another camp believes that U.S. Navy Admiral Robert E. Peary got there first. The dispute arises because of questions regarding how each man navigated his way to the pole and the calculations they used to prove they were at the pole.
While the subject may sound a touch dry, Molett does a good job of explaining why he believes that Peary and Matthew Henson’s expedition reached the pole first. Molett, bringing his years as an aviator and navigator to bear on the subject, explains how Peary’s painstaking calculations – using a variety of simple handheld tools – made his way to the North Pole and proved it.
The book was also especially interesting because it gave a good overview of the many failed and successful trips to the North Pole. Many of the men who tried (and died) on their way to the North Pole did so for personal fame and national pride, and tales of their adventures make for great reading.
In the end, Molett passed away in March 2005 and is buried in the West Tennessee Veterans Cemetery in Memphis, Tenn. I think there is little doubt that Molett is one of the most interesting men to ever come out of Conecuh County, and he’s likely the only person from the county to have ever flown over the North Pole. If the Conecuh County Cultural Center ever gets off the ground, I think it would be fitting for Molett to be remember with a display of some kind within that local museum.