They left fifty years ago yesterday and arrived fifty years ago this Saturday and most of us of a certain age remember where we were when it happened. In addition, any of us who were in the military …
They left fifty years ago yesterday and arrived fifty years ago this Saturday and most of us of a certain age remember where we were when it happened. In addition, any of us who were in the military have stories to tell about unusual events that happened while we were serving our country that could not have been experienced outside of the military. The following is a story, probably embellished by the years, of where I was and what happened when the US astronauts landed on the moon.
The USS Belmont was a “spy” ship, sister to the USS Liberty shot up by the Israelis during the 1967 Israeli/Arab war. The Belmont was bigger than but similar to the captured Pueblo, still commissioned and in the hands of North Korea. In June of 1969 the Belmont set sail from Norfolk, Virginia headed for the Mediterranean Sea. BJ was left on the dock waving good-bye and wanting to know when I would return. There were no cell phones or internet or other means of personally communicating from the ship so I called her from a pay phone in Piraeus, Greece one day and talked for forty-five minutes for the paltry sum of $100.
It was the height of the Cold War and the mission of the Belmont was to follow and monitor the Russian carrier Moskva.
In 1961 President John Kennedy said, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.” The only thing he didn’t say was that he really wanted to beat the Russians! So, over $400 billion dollars later with the help of over 400,000 people, we got it done. Revisiting that time it is obvious that all those people spending all that money had but that one goal in mind. I remember talk about the scientific knowledge we would gain and the products that were developed (who doesn’t like Tang or Velcro?). But, let’s be honest the Russians were beating us up in space with more missions and more cosmonauts than we. Poverty, civil rights and the Viet Nam War be damned, we were going to get to the moon first.
On a pleasant Sunday afternoon in the U.S., July 20, 1969, two U.S. astronauts landed and walked on the moon. In the middle of the Mediterranean it was late evening and dark. We couldn’t even see the moon so it was really dark, the kind of dark that precludes seeing your hand in front of your face. The Moskva and a couple Russian support ships had running lights visible a few miles away and we were in a festive mood given our success. Consequently we put up the much larger holiday U.S. flag, shone spotlights on it and shot off several flares. If you didn’t know any better it could have been World War III. Since our friends on the Russian ships probably had not been fully informed of this significant “one giant leap for mankind” we sent them a message graciously letting them know. Expecting some kind of congratulatory response and not getting one led our crew to tell them again that we had landed on the moon. After noting some communication between the Russian ships, probably trying to construct an appropriate congratulatory communication, they finally responded. They may have been a little sarcastic when they said, “Go to bed Yankees.” My friends, these are the moments you only get in the military and given the fact that you have given this time for service to your country, you have also earned the right to embellish this or any other story!
Don’t forget what Janet Turpin Myers noted. “Everybody knows, a humongous thing happened on Sunday, July 20, 1969 at exactly 4:17 EDT. The “Eagle” has landed. Bingo. Just like that. Man became an alien.”
Love a curmudgeon and have a great week!
(Ned Luce, a retired IBM executive, writes from Port Ludlow, where he may be the only person who thinks he is a curmudgeon.)