Still more rememberingPublished 6:25pm Wednesday, September 26, 2012
I have to do this, because it is probably what old people do best. Our long life is mostly behind us and there is a lot to remember.
First is remembering Ben and Gwen Goodwin. No kin, but I always wished we were. Often when Fran did not feel up to going to church with me I would seek out another Mrs. Goodwin, who would give me a big smile and make room on the pew. Gwen and I would then gaze admiringly at Bennie in the choir loft, returning our big grins: happiness all around!
We were all transfixed for a while when Bennie would offer a solo featuring the luminous, liquid tones he would always get from his silver flute. I understand that he directed the bands at the former Tryon City School for many years, so the alumni who also remember him fondly must number in the hundreds.
Bennie was a great friend who faithfully hauled me to Hendersonville many times during my cardiac rehab at Pardee Hospital. I last saw him at our Hospice before he transferred to one at Moyock to be near family. He grinned broadly most of the time I was there, even when I was leaving. Easier for him than for me, I suppose, because he knew he would soon be rejoining his beloved Gwen.
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the first two guys to walk on the moon, are about my age, so I have always felt closer to them than the other astronauts. I also knew about John Glenn long before his became a household name. You see, I was working at Chance Vought when Glenn flew one of our RF8Us non-stop from coast to coast faster than a bullet from a .45 automatic pistol, making a continuous strip photograph of the ground as he went.
The moon walk occurred shortly after I was transferred to a small part of our company working under contract to NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. The locals were still pretty upset because President Johnson had moved the manned space effort to Houston (the smaller bridges around Hampton are named for the first seven astronauts).
The NASA people told us newcomers wonderful tales of working with Neil and Buzz on the lunar lander training rig (that could NOT be moved to Houston!). The thing is more than 250 feet tall and had an overhead crane from which the lander module was suspended to support 5/6ths of its weight as its rockets could support only 1/6th, thus responding to pilot inputs as it would in the moon’s reduced gravitational attraction.
The cameras picked up on Buzz cheating by glancing at the orange and white legs of the huge gantry, so they were quickly painted flat black (the practice was conducted at night, of course). Another problem was that the craters on the fiberglass replica of the moon surface filled with water when it rained, giving inappropriate bright reflections, so technicians were dispatched to drill drainage holes in all of them!
Neil was much in demand on the talk shows upon returning to earth, but the networks soon abandoned him because he answered all their leading questions with a simple “Yes, sir” or “No, sir.”
My comment to Fran was, “What did they expect from a man carefully selected to be cool under pressure?”
The NASA people had told me that during the tense final approach to the landing, Neil’s heart and respiration rates, also his blood pressure, were normal, never elevated.
Some years later, Neil was featured in a cable TV series flying classic airplanes, many from the earliest days of manned flight. On these programs, he was quite enthusiastic and animated after landing one of those quirky birds. He was then in his element, handling the controls of yet another “flying machine.” I believe he had pretty well mastered all of them.