I have always enjoyed seeing places of historical importance, with their evidence of importance hidden in plain sight. Virginia City, Nevada is such a place. To most of the visitors, it is simply an old western town whose shops now sell ice cream and T Shirts.
For those who know the history, it’s where Samuel Clemens became Mark Twain. It’s a place that produced so much silver that it built San Francisco, and was the beginning of a few major corporations today.
The Wendover Airfield is another such place. My curiosity about it was built over some years. On a past cross country trip of some years ago, I stopped there and saw dozens of old wooden buildings whose condition reminded me of the Bodie State Historic Park, which is kept in “arrested decay”. And there was a huge hanger just to the east of the main facility. It looked a bit different from a typical hanger, as it has offices or workshops all along the sides.
From time to time, I’ve liked to post some memories of those whom I’ve come across during life. I had a neighbor who was a character – I seem to gravitate towards characters – people who like to carve their own path through life instead of blindly following the paths of others. And I thought that most of the time, these “snapshots” – memories held and cherished to be occasionally revisited by the owners, leave us when the owner leaves us, never to be known by others.
Several of these friends, in telling me their stories, had me at the time believing silently that it was “hyperbole”. My neighbor was telling me that he enlisted in the Marines when he was 16 during WW2 (there were a few who did that). He was at Tarawa and Saipan. Then after WW2, recalled to Korea where he was one of the “Frozen Chosin”. I thought this was hyperbole, until he invited me to a Chosin Reunion. There were a couple of Army guys there too. He liked to remind me that it took a Marine General who took the place of the Army General to finally get them out and not be slaughtered by the vastly bigger invading Chinese force.
He would tell me things that one who lived by lies about service would not say. They are always about their “heroism” and made up units.
Today marks the 53rd anniversary of that famous flight that Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins took to the Sea of Tranquility. I wrote a bit some time ago of where I was that day – in the back country of Sequoia National Park, flown in by helicopter, and clearing the trails of fallen trees. That evening, I was in my sleeping bag, looking up at the moon through these massive redwoods. I had a little 6 transistor radio, and was listening to the scratchy station in the Central Valley that it was pulling in. To hear Armstrong’s voice and looking up at the moon through those redwoods, filled me with wonder and awe.
I’m in a Facebook group that I have come to learn is filled with a lot of “movers and shakers” of NASA, past and present.
I posed the question, “where were you on that historical day?”
I’m reposting a few of their (anonymous) answers.
“I was flying a combat mission during the Vietnam War. Listened to the lunar landing on one of our radios that was broadcasting Voice of America. Back on the ground at the O-Club to watch Neil come down the ladder. A never to be forgotten sense of pride in being an American.”
“I was ten. My sister 13. We were sitting on the couch under the window air conditioner, covered in a blanket because we were cold as we watched on the black and white console tv. Somewhere before the landing I was annoying my sister who called for mom. She was on the phone with someone, and the cord wouldn’t reach us (thank goodness for corded phones!). So she threw a shoe at me to get me to stop. And the Eagle has landed! 😉 “
“It was first day of 2 weeks at Boy Scout camp with no TV. …That night in the tent, I listened to first half of moon walk on my transistor radio until the battery died.”
“I was 9. Four days earlier, we’d been to the Cape to watch the launch. Now I was trying to stay awake for the first step. I can’t remember if I actually saw it live: I was dozing in and out.”
“I was a 16 year old space nerd. We had gone to my 5th grade teacher’s house (who was my mother’s best friend) to watch the moonwalk. I was absolutely transfixed by what I was seeing…humans were walking on the moon (and I knew better than to say “I wish I was up there”). After the walk was completed, I got my telescope out to see if I could find the LM. No luck but it was worth the try.”
“Our family had recently moved into a brand-new townhome in the Denver suburbs. That was the day the patio was poured, and I was allowed to carefully write the date and a little drawing of the moon in the fresh concrete.”
On July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress unanimously adopted a resolution stating “That these United Colonies are, and, of right, ought to be, Free and Independent States.” Two days later, after further debate, it approved the Declaration of Independence, the document that, over time, brought eternal fame to its main author, Thomas Jefferson.
I just started a book that Hogday recommended, about the 8th Army Air Force in England. I know that they suffered tremendous casualties, but just cold numbers really don’t tell the whole story. Yes, more were killed flying those bombers and fighters into Nazi-occupied Europe than all of the Marines killed in the Pacific. Over 26,000 airmen were lost in those skies.
One had to complete 25 missions before you could rotate home and the odds, particularly in 1943, of doing that were if not stacked against you, pretty heavy. I’m trying to remember a statistic citing death or seriously wounded before those 25 missions were complete, but 1:3 seems to come to mind.
For more years than I can remember since 1992, I have wondered if the West squandered an opportunity to help bring democracy to Russia. Much like during the height of the Cold War in the 1950s, when people accused others of “losing” Eastern Europe after WW2. It was a UVA Professor who was very influential to my thinking who said that Eastern Europe wasn’t ours to “lose” – the Soviets already occupied it. Although surely one could argue that a geopolitically naïve Franklin Roosevelt erred greatly in agreeing to let Stalin take Berlin – and have his spheres of influence. But then, the frail and dying Roosevelt believed Stalin when he promised to allow free elections.
But could Russia have evolved differently today had Boris Yeltsin had some more help and encouragement?
I’ve met some interesting people along the way, and Maria is no exception. She is in my car club, and 87 years young. When we connected a few days ago, she remembered that 20 years ago, with her husband recently passed, I took her on a club drive.
I have trouble remembering something from 2 hours ago.