Bernt Balchen was born on October 23, 1899, in Tveit, Norway. During World War I, he served in the French Foreign Legion, the Royal Norwegian Army, and was wounded while serving with the Finnish Army during the Finnish Civil War in 1918. Balchen joined the Royal Norwegian Naval Air Service in 1921 and was commissioned as a Naval Aviator in 1924, where he served as a test pilot and arctic explorer. He was the pilot on the trans-Atlantic flight in the America in 1927, and was the pilot for the first aircraft flight over the South Pole with the Byrd Antarctic Expedition in 1929. During the 1930's, Balchen became a U.S. Citizen, helped create the Norwegian Airlines and the Nordic Postal Union, and he helped negotiate an aviation treaty with the United States. He joined the British Royal Air Force at the outbreak of World War II, and was commissioned in the U.S. Army Air Forces on September 5, 1941. Col Balchen built, organized, and commanded Bluie West-8 base in Greenland from October 1941 to January 1943, and then operated a courier air transport service between Britain and Sweden, as well as other clandestine missions, from January 1943 until the end of the war. He left active duty on April 20, 1946, and then helped organize the Scandinavian Airlines System until returning to active duty with the U.S. Air Force on October 11, 1948. Col Balchen served as commander of the 10th Air Rescue Squadron at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, from November 1948 to July 1950, and then as a staff officer with Alaskan Air Command from July 1950 to January 1951.During this time, he flew an aircraft non-stop from Alaska to Norway in 1949 to become the first person to pilot an airplane over both poles. Col Balchen next served as advisor for the construction of the Air Force Base at Thule, Greenland, before serving as the Assistant for Arctic Activities at Headquarters U.S. Air Force in the Pentagon from August 1951 until his retirement from the Air Force on October 31, 1956. He was awarded the Harmon Trophy in 1953, was enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1973, and became the only non-Canadian enshrined into the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame in 1974. Bernt Balchen died on October 17, 1973, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
His quote on his grave at Arlington National Cemetery reads:
"Today goes fast and tomorrow is almost here. Maybe I have helped a little in the change. So I go on to the next adventure, looking to the future but always thinking back to the past, remembering my teammates and the lonely places I have seen that no man ever saw before..."