Tributes & Stories

1963

The Four Day Storm
Legacy: Keepers of the Flame
An Amazing Story – What are the Odds?
Nothing Ventured – Nothing Gained
The Way We Were…Long Gone but Not Forgetting
USNA Grad Launching Men to the Moon
Launching the Apollo 11 Spacecraft

 

The Four Day Storm

by Jim DeLong '63

This is 56 years later, so don’t hold me to it.

I’ll try to tell the story of a storm my ship experienced over a four day period in 1964 in the Mediterranean Sea.

We were on a port call in Majorca when we were sent to sea to weather an impending storm. We were warned that if we stayed in port there was a risk that the ship, and the others in our task force, would be blown up onto the land by the expected high winds. It was determined that we would be better off to weather the storm at sea. Each ship of the task force was sent to different sectors of the ocean to individually ride out the storm, as the expected high winds and high seas made it untenable to stay together in any kind of formation or to try to maintain the kind of contact among the ships that was routine when sailing together. We were each on our own.

My ship, on which I was an ensign, the ASW (anti-submarine warfare) officer and a bridge watch stander, was a modernized Gearing class destroyer of 2500 or so tons displacement with a length of 390 feet and a beam of approximately 40 feet. The bridge was 35 feet above the water line and about 100 feet or so aft of the bow.

For reasons that will become evident later, I’ll also point out that one result of the modernization of the ship was that much of the superstructure of the ship, which is all of the structure above the main deck, was aluminum rather than steel. Aluminum is much lighter than steel, and aluminum welds are weaker than steel welds. There are many hoods, vents, and openings of one sort or another in the superstructure to permit ventilation within the ship.

While the ship had one boat that could serve as a life boat, the boat could carry at most 40-50 people and there were about 350 men in the crew.  There were a series of inflatable life rafts that would serve the crew if it became necessary to abandon ship. These rafts were held along an upper level of the ship in cradles or brackets from which they could be released and immediately dropped into the sea if necessary. I believe but am not sure that they also automatically released, inflated, and fell into the water if inundated in sea water

The storm came off the African desert; as I recall, the winds off the desert are called the Scirroco. Shortly after we got underway from Palma, de Majorca, and well clear of land, the winds, from the South, blowing North, began to strengthen. Over the course of a few hours the winds had grown in strength to approximately 75 miles an hour. These strong winds persisted with great constancy for the next four days. Persistent winds create major sea waves, and, soon, the sea waves were running at a pretty consistent 75 feet from trough to peak. The period pf the waves, or the distance between the peaks, was about half the length of the ship. The waves were not sharp-peaked but rather like gigantic swells. The high winds blew the foam generated by the waves horizontally. Vision was obscured so that all that could be seen was the blowing sea foam and the next wave or trough in front of the ship.

Fortunately, the persistence of the wind and the constancy of its direction meant that the pattern of the waves was fairly regular. They came from a fairly consistent direction. This meant that the ship could stay on a consistent heading and address the waves at a more or less consistent angle. At 75 feet, the waves would have rolled the ship over if we had proceeded parallel to them and if we had headed directly into them, the ship would have been pounded so hard that it might well have broken. We steered at a 45 degree angle to the waves, at bare steerageway speed of about 3 knots, so as to react to the waves more than to attack them, which would have put the ship in even greater danger.

In those seas, we spent four days rolling and pitching dramatically. We were constantly rolling at about 45 degrees, and would periodically (fortunately only a few times per four hour watch) crash down off one wave onto the next. These crashes, with a loud bang, shook the entire ship and we could feel the porpoise-like flexing of the hull. We also would periodically bury the bow of the ship in the oncoming wave, and green water (solid sea water, not foam) would cover the fore end of the ship up to the bridge, so that the bridge would have water to its scuppers.

When the ship passed over the top of a wave, the trough would be 100  feet or more down below the bridge. When we were in a trough, the next wave would be like a mountain in front of us. The visuals of the swollen seas and blowing foam were very dramatic and awesome. The persistence of these conditions over four days was tiresome, to say the least.

The bridge was semi-enclosed, so offered protection from the water washing over the decks. We would normally have an after lookout and a signalman out on the decks, but we did not send them out so that they would not be washed overboard.

Many of the crew were seasick and many were frightened. I remember guys sitting at the radars in CIC (Combat Information Center) with buckets between their legs into which they would puke when they got sick. Others bowed their heads as if in submission to the forces of nature, not certain they were going to live. Many were fearful, but none let it make him unavailable for his duty.

Hot food service was impossible, so we subsisted on white bread and bologna (called “horsecock” in Navy lingo) sandwiches for the duration of the storm. Sleeping with the ship rolling 45 degrees from side to side was not easy. The officer’s bunks were a mattress within a metal frame, and I recall trying to remain in the bunk, and not get spilled out onto the deck, by jamming my hands in the upper corners and my feet in the lower corners, spread- eagled and hanging on. There was a strap across the bunk so that we could strap ourselves in in heavy weather, and I used the strap, but still had difficulty sleeping.

Our quarters were on, not below, the main deck, and there were openings in the superstructure through which water intruded into spaces above the main deck. Consequently, water sloshed around within our staterooms, several inches deep.

The constant rolling and resultant twisting and distortions of the ship’s structures caused every drawer, cabinet and closet to open and spill its contents out onto the deck. Early in the storm, I wound a wire coat hanger around the handles of my closet to try to keep it closed, but it came open anyway and all my uniforms were dumped out and sloshed around with everything else in my room.

Though we rolled routinely 45 degrees, the ship’s movement was quite irregular and we would frequently roll even further. Of course we also pitched as we rolled, resulting in crashes that made loud bangs and felt as though the ship had been dropped 20 feet onto solid concrete, but followed by the porpoise-like flexing of the hull, which was more frightening than the roll. We had no good idea how much pounding the ship could take, but it felt like a close case when we experienced the biggest bangs.

The ship’s designed roll tolerance, the angle of roll beyond which the ship would just roll on over, was said to be 60 degrees. Once when I was on watch on the bridge, the inclinometer showed a roll of 53 degrees to starboard. The ship did not roll back to the port side in due course as it would normally do, but hovered for a while at that steep angle. This was a very uncomfortable situation, and those of us on the bridge were all thinking, and some of us saying, “come on baby—just roll on back”, out of a not unreasonable concern that we might just turn turtle and roll on over. Finally, after what seemed to be much too long a time, the ship eased back over and we all breathed out a big sigh of relief.

As though the storm itself were not sufficiently dramatic, we had to deal with a man overboard report from a lookout in the middle of our second night in the storm. He reported to the bridge that he had seen a light in the water. He, and we on the bridge, assumed it was a sea water activated light as found on a life ring and that a sailor had gone over, grabbing a life ring as he went. We didn’t see how a person could survive in the seas that we were experiencing, but we had to make every effort to try to save whoever it might be. We immediately went into man overboard procedures, though with great difficulty and considerable danger, as we had to turn the ship around through the high seas. We timed our turn carefully so as not to go “ass-over tea kettle” during the turn, and we did manage to get around and back onto our reverse track, though, with what were now following seas, the ship’s movements were even more chaotic and uncomfortable. We immediately roused the crew to quarters, so that we could find out who was missing. After a first muster of the crew, we did not identify anybody missing. We had a recount, and still found no one missing. Finally, for as much certainty as possible, we had the officers and chiefs of each division count not only their own division but also a different division. While this counting of the crew was going on everyone was strained and anxious, thinking how terrible it would be for anyone who had gone overboard. We spent three hours searching the sea, counting, recounting and reporting, before finally concluding that no one was missing, that what had happened was that the seas had washed a life ring overboard, and that the lookout had seen the light of the life ring. Great relief. And back to the storm.

There was a kind of beauty in the storm. When the ship was sitting on the top of a wave with the peak of the wave beneath the center of the ship we could see some distance and see the foaming huge seas extend to whatever we could see of the horizon. We could also see the great canyon that lead away from the top to the trough of the wave. We could watch ourselves sliding down into the next wave, and watch our bow bury itself in the oncoming wall of water.  I imagined what it would be like to be in a clear plastic or glass dome on the bow, watching as the bow went under, with water to a depth of 25 or 30 feet or more over the bow. I would have loved to see the plunge as the ship hit what felt like a wall.

After four days of sleeplessness, hunger, excitement, and, for some, fear and even terror, the winds finally subsided. We were able to go out onto the exposed decks, where we did damage assessment. Every life raft had been swept from the ship. Every aluminum vent, hood and protrusion which had been welded to the bulkhead on the first level above the main deck had been wiped off and was gone. The steel main deck itself had been warped and wrinkled into wave like patterns from fore to aft. But the ship was afloat, the entire crew was accounted for, and the engines still worked. We headed to Naples as our next port, and resumed our position as part of a carrier task force.

It was a great experience, all things considered...

 

Legacy: Keepers of the Flame

by Lieutenant Colonel Michael A. Blackledge ’63, USAF (Ret.)

It was late December 1982, post-Christmas, three weeks after my father had died in Texas. My siblings and I had gathered in his apartment to go through his effects. At first we were respectful, almost religious. But as the task went on, we began to lose our sense of dignity and reverted to the ragtag bunch of characters that my parents had raised.

As we picked up each artifact, his framed Naval Academy Class of 1920 diploma, each commissioning document, his 5’x3’ hooked rug of the USNA Crest from the China Station, each photo, we would ask, “Does anybody want this?” Some would be treasured, a few would even be argued over, but there was only so much that you would take back on the plane, only so much that was worth the cost of packing and shipping back home.  As our piles increased, the response more and more became, “No! Throw it in the dumper!” 

Over the decades since, I have grown to value Family History. I have published an extensive genealogy and am working on a collection of family stories. Now I would give almost anything to go back to that winter day in December and go through some of those items again.  What went into the dumper? What would I do differently? 

For one, I would create an inventory of what went where. Of course, that is much easier to accomplish today, with the phone-camera and phone-audio notes at hand. But even back in 1982 we could have taken some notes, scribbled something down as to who got what at Christmas time.

Secondly, over the years I have come to understand the cold hard truth of inheritance: your kids don’t want your stuff! They have their own stuff! And they don’t value much of what you have collected over your career and over your Life.

I have also come to understand that there are institutions that do want your stuff – in fact, will treasure it and archive it for generations yet to come.  It is an entirely different viewpoint to know that you are not saving stuff for your kids, but in consideration for some unknown researcher in a future time.

A third image that comes to mind is my Aunt Helen–she had no children, but her husband had been active in the Benevolent Order of the Elks, and elected to Grand Exalted Ruler in 1957. After Uncle Hobert died, Aunt Helen labeled some boxes:  one for artifacts going to one side of the family, another for some going to the other side.  One for historical interest, and one for (possibly) pure trash. Before she died, she had contacted the closest she had to keepers of the flame, to historians in each family, and ensured they knew they would be getting a box, and would treat it with the respect she felt it deserved.

The real Keepers of the Flame are libraries. There are two categories of libraries worthy of your consideration:  genealogy libraries and military/naval history libraries. What to send to each? That is certainly up to you, but I suggest you contact them first to see if they would welcome your treasures, your documents, your artifacts. Our Naval Academy Nimitz Library is one of the best, and Dr.Jennifer Bryan maintains its Special Collections and Archives. Here is the web site entry about such donations from another major military library, the Navy Department Library (under the Naval History and Heritage Command) at the Washington Navy Yard: 

The Navy Library is open to the public and provides resources vital to the writing and publishing of naval history, as well as information relating to the needs of today’s Navy. The library catalog is online, and the library posts numerous publications, documents and subject presentations on the Naval History & Heritage Command's Website. The library's collection continues to expand thanks to the installation of compact mobile shelving and materials acquired from Navy offices, private individuals, and organizations such as the Naval Historical Foundation. Significant holdings have been obtained from disestablished libraries (including Naval Air Systems and the Navy Judge Advocate General), as well as from libraries whose collections have been downsized (such as the State Department). Over 13% of the book titles in the library are unique in the international OCLC (Worldcat) database.

Materials that enhance the Archives’ collections and support the research of U.S. Navy personnel, historians, scholars, and other researchers are greatly appreciated. Please email archives@navy.mil if you have material you are interested in donating. Do not send unsolicited material. 

What type of items are of interest? The question is, what items do you have? Email the library to see if they would welcome your items into their collection, which includes:

There are much smaller libraries which are not even members of WorldCat, which is the “library of libraries”, a digital network used by researchers to discover where items are located. Consider the USS Midway Museum library, completely operated by volunteers. It is not on the ship/museum tour, not open to the public–unless you say the word “Research.” Do so, and you are invited, and will find a most interesting on-board library. You go up ladders to enter and you move through watertight doors from collection to collection. They have everything from USNA Lucky Bag yearbooks to cruise books to even Horatio Hornblower novels. During my visit, I asked them pointblank if they would more appreciate a cash donation or a document donation–without hesitation, they told me they want the physical items. If they receive something they already have, they will find a home for it in another ship library. They have a website, and a PDF file of their holdings: 

https://www.midway.org/education/education-resources/uss-midway-research-library/

Some of your items almost certainly relate to family history. Genealogy libraries are well known to researchers, perhaps not so much to the general public.  For example, the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) is considered one of the ten destination libraries for genealogy, as is the Birmingham [Alabama] Public Library and the Detroit Public Library – do a search for top genealogy libraries. Vertical files can hold collections that are not bound– and LAPL even has its own bindery. If you were to send them loose pages of your unpublished biography, they will bind it and enter it into their collection–and WorldCat. Check with your local library and talk to the Genealogy Librarian, let them know what you have. They are so much more interested in your holdings than your kids!

 

An Amazing Story – What are the Odds? (A story about Max H. Kirpatrick '63)

By Kevin Kirkpatrick

My father, Max Howard Kirkpatrick, was a great man. I am truly lucky and so proud to have had such a wonderful father. He graduated with honors from the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, class of 1963. He went to Submarine and Nuclear school then on to the submarine fleet. He served on three different boats (the USS Henry Clay (SSBN-625), the USS James Madison (SSBN-627), and the USS Gurnard (SSN-662) for the remainder of his Naval career.

I still remember the many stories he would tell when I was a child. Even into adulthood, I would often ask him to repeat them. Each time they were just as interesting, and I was just as fascinated as the first time I had heard them. Some of the stories centered on “the cabin”. This was a remote cabin in the woods near the shore of Norris Lake in Norris, TN. He frequented the cabin often during his high school years. He would go there with my uncle, older cousins, and other friends. He went to the cabin one final time during a short leave, after graduating from Navy Academy in Annapolis in 1963. He was sporting his brand new, highly coveted, and much deserved Naval Academy class ring while he was swimming that day. Sadly, it slipped off his finger and went to the bottom of the lake and he would never see it again. The story goes that he was so upset after spending much time trying to find it that he even went so far as to rent scuba gear.  But it was all in vain. All this happened before I was born so I had never seen the ring, but the stories of it through the years always brought back so many wonderful memories of my dad and his Naval Career.  On October 30, 2018 I was standing by his bed, holding his hand as he passed. Although he is gone, this story and others he had told me, will stay with me forever.

On Thursday, 14 November 2019 I received a phone call from a gentleman who asked if I was the son of Max Kirkpatrick. I told him I indeed was. He went on to say that he had an item that belonged to my father and wanted to return it to me. I still had no idea what it could be even after he explained that his friend, a local fisherman, had been fishing on Norris Lake when he spotted something shiny in the water and retrieved it. The item this fisherman retrieved turned out to be my father’s class ring! The gentleman I was talking to told me that his fisherman friend had asked him to see if he could find the owner so that it could be returned. He explained that he used the ring’s inscription and researched to find my father, only to find out he had already passed away. He then continued his research and found me. I was astonished and in shock. The gentleman was also astonished when I explained that the ring had been lost in late 1963 or early 1964, and that it had been at the bottom of the lake for 55 years. He said the ring had little wear or tarnish, that it looked as if it came right out of a display case.

On Saturday, 16 November 2019, I met the gentleman and he graciously returned the ring. I can’t begin to explain the overwhelming emotions I am feeling. This forever lost family heirloom is now real, physical, and in my possession to be cherished forever. I wish my father could have been alive to receive his ring, but I have to hope that somehow he knows. What are the odds of this? In addition, the person who found the ring lived across the street from me for several years. I would even stand in his driveway to wait for the school bus. This is so far beyond chance or coincidence that something else must be at play here. Perhaps, the most remarkable part of this story is knowing that in today’s world, there are still those with compassion, kindness, and nobility. The effort and resources these two men used to locate the owner of the ring and return it fills my heart with joy and hope for humanity.

 

Nothing Ventured-Nothing Gained

by A. James Oakes, Jr. '63
 
After graduation on 5 June 1963, I drove across the country in my new TR-4. My desdnation was San Mateo, California (20 miles south of San Francisco) for a month's leave before reporting aboard my first duty station, MIDWAY (CVA-41). I spent my leave seeing old friends and spent a lot of time at Lake Tahoe. Upon reporting aboard MIDWAY, the Executive Officer asked me what department I would like to be assigned. My choices were in order: operations, deck and engineering. You can guess which one I got. For the next 12 months I was a "snipe". MIDWAY was homeported in Alameda, CA. In fact that was why I chose her since this was the closest I could get to home. In 1963, being a "black shoe" and choosing a carrier was not the "fast track" to the top. For several months, we went to sea for maneuvers off the coast and carrier qualifications for the air wing in preparation for our deployment to West Pac in late October. Every evening that I didn't have the duty, I'd head for San Francisco on liberty, looking for the future Mrs. Oakes, and a good dme. Every new ensign or 2nd lieutenant was doing the same thing, only in a different locale (except those that had gotten married upon graduation, of course). Crossing the Bay Bridge into San Francisco became almost a daily routine for me while the ship was in port. I knew that Fleet Admiral Nimitz lived in quarters #1 on Treasure Island and I started thinking to myself if there was some way to meet this great warrior, and perhaps even getting him to autograph my yearbook. After much thought, the decision was made to make a direct frontal assault and hope for the best. With my 1963 Lucky Bag in hand, on a mid-September 1963 afternoon, I exited at Treasure Island on my way across the Bay Bridge to San Francisco and drove up to Quarters #1.1 was nervous as I rang the doorbell and waited for what seemed like a very long time. A Philippine steward answered the door finally and I explained that my name was Ensign Oakes, a recent graduate of the Naval Academy, and would he be so kind as to ask Admiral Nimitz to autograph my yearbook if he was in. The steward asked me to wait and he exited. After several minutes he returned and asked me to come in. Now my heart is really pounding. We walked down a long hallway, got into an elevator, went up, exited the elevator and walked down the hall and into what was obviously the Admiral's study. There were memorabilia all over—pictures, award plaques, books, etc. The steward told me to take a seat and the Admiral would be here in a moment. After maybe 5 minutes in walked this stately looking gendeman, with a shock of white hair and walking with a cane. His first words to me were "Nimitz ...'05," as he stuck his right hand out. I was needless to say shocked. I jumped to attention and shot back, "Oakes ...'63, sir," and shook his hand (spooned by one of the greatest Naval officers our country has produced!!). For the next 15 or 20 minutes Admiral Nimitz showed me his yearbook and the picture of the crew on which he rowed. He asked to see my picture and asked me what ship I was assigned to and what my duties were. He was very charming, friendly and unpretentious. The Admiral said that instead of autographing my yearbook that he would do me one better. He had two pictures of him signing the peace treaty for the Allies ending World War II in the Pacific on the deck of the battleship MISSOURI. He told me that they were earmarked for someone who had done a favor for him, but never showed up to collect the reward. He didn't know the correct spelling of this person's name, so he had left a space blank to insert the name, but he had signed the following message to the bottom of the now very famous picture: "With best wishes and great appreciation," signed C.W. Nimitz, Fleet Admiral, USN. So, he inserted my name in front of his expression of thanks. After thanking the Admiral several times, I departed and couldn't believe what had transpired. I now possessed a copy of the famous WWII picture on the MISSOURI with the following inscription: "To Ensign Anthony J. Oakes, Jr., USN with best wishes and great appreciation, C.W. Nimitz, Fleet Admiral, USN." Ironically three and a half years later while serving on the staff on COMTWELVE in San Francisco, I was involved in handling Fleet Admiral Nimitz' funeral arrangements at the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, CA. Upon reliving this story many times over the years, I settled on the following moral...NOTHING VENTURED, NOTHING GAINED.  (This story originally appeared in Shipmate: Jan-Feb 1996)

Upon graduation, Jim reported aboard Midway (CVA-41) where he spent one year in the engineering department and one year in the navigation department qualifying as an engineering and deck watch officer. He then became navigator of MONTICELLG (LSD-35) for a year, participating in several amphibious assaults in Vietnam. His last year of active duty he served on the COMPHIBPAC staff in Coronado and protocol officer for the Commander of the 12th Naval District in San Francisco. 

 

The Way We Were…Long Gone but Not Forgetting

Who knew on that first day in July when we spent so much time with black ink and a cut-out stencil that our assigned four digit number would embrace and identify everything we owned, and hoped to have returned to us with weekly regularity, from Dixie cups to detachable collars.  From those same collars we would now start collecting wooden “rasputniks” and learn which other essentials to tape in the cover of our Reef Points. Even with no pockets that same essential blue bible would always be with you, in a waistband or sock, as you “formed up” between classes or “chopped” to formations.

We learned to keep our “gig lines” straight and our “eyes in the boat”. Our “spiffies” straightened our blue collars, metal cap stretchers dried our “covers”, and our “slipsticks” were sheathed on our belts. “Coffee chits” were often celebrity permissions to be granted (mine from Kim Novak) and your grease girl’s picture better be in your cap. At mealtime, you were more likely to be “fried” than “spooned”. A prized wooden “chit” would earn you a 10 minute weekly hair appointment in one of four wing basement “spas”.

And then there were those rotating duties:

ICOR: That individual, designated by the tag on the hook by his name on the transom, responsible for anything amiss in the room, thus saving any inspector the need to differentiate deficiencies. With this duty came the skill of “unmaking” racks, a requirement during mandatory morning meals. Instead of tearing off all sheets in a pile, one carefully untucked all four sides layered together and folded them centerline, to be unfolded and remade quickly before classes.

Chow Call: Throughout Mother B, simultaneously on the 4 or 5 decks of 8 wings, at 10, 5, and 2 minutes prior to every meal, the designated plebe would recite: the 4 “OOW”S, the 4 movies showing at the local theaters, the 4 daily countdowns (Army game, next leave, June Week, and graduation), the sports in the yard, and, of course, the menu. The skill here became assuming your assigned position in an outside formation from the fourth deck after the full “2 minute” call. Don’t even think of not squaring corners or hugging the outer ladder rail!

Dawn Patrol: More of a team effort was that daily winter duty of surreptitiously entering an upper classman room before reveille to silently close windows and energize steam radiators. The skills learned here were to avoid s---cans and other purposely laid booby traps to preclude incurring the wrath of waking anyone.

You don’t really dread the “Dark Ages” until you depart your loving family after your first “leave”, home at Christmas, and you still have mid-terms hovering in the end of January. “How cold does it get in Maryland?” …colder than the handle on an outhouse door…colder than “certain ladies” in Baltimore.

The only thing more embarrassing than “Who gets the brick?” is if he is dragging a “Yard engine” and she’s the “OAO”. At a minimum its one long week displayed on the transom for all to admire.

Mealtimes were always the most intense encounters with the upper classmen, as the recitations and professional questions were unceasing, “shoving out” and square meals notwithstanding. Whereas a well-executed “Wildman” may have provided fleeting impromptu relief, the decision to go for a “Cannonball” run required some intense classmate planning, not to mention the individual’s intestinal fortitude. Hold the hard sauce.

“Uniform races” during “Come-arounds” were anything but, however, this was one skill that probably best carried over to all four years in the yard and ongoing life in the Fleet. At least in Mother B you could count on your “wife” for a “tuck”.

MOCs (pronounced moaks), Jimmylegs, and Diggers and Fillers are just some of the list of supporting characters. The last two managed during the course of the year to move the entire yard three feet to the north.

There were three recorded measures of survivability: grades, conduct, and grease.

For the less academically gifted, the motto “2.5 will survive” would keep you off the “tree” lists in all the “requireds”: steam, bull, skinny, seamo, dago, and juice.

Conduct deficiencies were doled of in 5 demo (demerit) increments with 300 annually being a perfect first year score. Each W-2 award included an invitation down to the Batt Office for an acknowledging autograph and a scheduled appearance at the next pre-dawn ED Squad. Excess demos could be marched off (in hourly increments) in drill attire with your “piece”.

Your “Grease” was a mystical relative ranking of your “aptitude for the Service” as judged by your prescient seniors. Not so much a grade as a judgement ladder to potential success.

And for all this we received our “monthly insult” of five dollars for “geedunk” and “poagie bait” at the Steerage.

Sixty years ago we survived and were to be the only Plebe class under 49 stars and the first class to beat Air Force (in Baltimore) and our brethren WooPoos four straight in Philadelphia.

“Sir, time and tide wait for no man. I am now shoving off”

W. T. Door ‘63

 

USNA Grad Launching Men to the Moon

by Stephen Coester

In 1957 I was a junior in high school when the world changed. On October 4, 1957 the Soviet Union launched the first satellite, Sputnik, into earth orbit. Hard to picture now but it panicked the free world. Were the Russians looking down on us and could they drop bombs from orbit. The American space program was in its infancy and after a failed Vanguard launch attempt, we finally launched Explorer 1 into orbit three months later on January 31, 1958.

But while the Soviets were having success after success we were blowing up rocket after rocket.  In school I would sketch a Russian rocket reaching for the stars while the American one blew up on the launch pad.

On April 12, 1961 when I was a youngster at the Academy, the Russians leaped even farther ahead, launching Yuri Gagarin into orbit, the first human to ride a rocket into space.

1. A month later we launched our first astronaut, Alan Shepard who rode Mercury Freedom 7 aboard a Redstone rocket sixty miles into space, not attaining orbit but getting us our first space hero. 

2. It took almost a year before we finally launched John Glenn on Friendship 7 into earth orbit on February 2, 1962.  By this time we were second classmen. Finally we were playing catch up with the Soviets. A few months later in September of 1962 our president, John F. Kennedy surprised the World in a speech at Rice University saying, "We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."

 For us at the Naval Academy all this was of interest but not of great importance while we were planning to serve our country in the Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force or Army.  But shortly after the Class of 1963 graduated my life changed.  I had a life threatening heart problem.  In August 1964 the Navy medically discharged me along with my new wife and a four month old son. Having planned on a full Navy career I was at a loss for what else USNA had prepared me for.  I applied for a job at the Kennedy Space Center and Boeing was happy with my transcript that stated something like, "The purpose of the Naval Academy is to develop Naval officers, but the degree is generally accepted as an engineering degree."

So with dog and cat, in late 1964 we headed from California to Florida where I started a thirty-three year career launching rockets.  The Apollo program was just gearing up, facilities and launch pads were still being built when we arrived.  I was one of the first few hundred Boeing employees and help write their proposal for processing and launching the Saturn V rocket that would take our astronauts to the moon.

In 1966 I ask for a transfer into a group that handled the launch hardware and became a member of the group that fueled the Saturn V with liquid hydrogen and RP-1 (kerosene).  We were still finishing up the installation and testing of those systems. Late in 1966 we had a full scale non-flight Saturn V (SA-500F) on which we practiced our propellant loading procedures. 

Finally on November 9, 1967 we were ready for the first unmanned test flight of the giant 363 foot tall Saturn V with a boilerplate Apollo spacecraft on top. Imagine the awe and nervousness of making the first flight of by far the largest rocket ever made with millions of parts that all had to work perfectly. This would be the first launch off of the new launch pad, LC-39A and the first restart of a rocket stage in space. Apollo 4/AS-501 lifted off the pad with a roar like nothing ever heard before and attained all mission objectives.

The next unmanned test flight was Apollo 6/AS502 on April 4, 1968. After a smooth launch the Saturn V suddenly experienced severe vibrations that threatened to tear the vehicle apart. And then two engines of the five on the second stage S-II mysteriously shut down.  The rocket limped into orbit and attained its goals. Engineers successfully solved both problems and made modifications to the engines to prevent reoccurrence.

In a gutsy move NASA decided to cancel additional planned unmanned flights and make the first manned flight a mission to orbit the moon.  Now we realized that we had the lives of three men in our hands. This was Apollo 8/AS503. History was made on December 21, 1968 making Frank Borman, Bill Anders and Jim Lovell the first humans to leave Earth's gravitational field on their journey to the moon.

During these first historic missions and all the rest I was part of the firing room team responsible for loading half a million gallons of liquid hydrogen onto the Saturn V rocket. (Second one in)
 
The successful Apollo 4 mission was followed by the earth orbit Apollo 9 mission to check out the lunar lander and then by Apollo 10, the dress rehearsal for the moon landing that lowered the lunar lander to within a few miles of the surface of the moon before returning to the mother ship.

Everyone knows the next mission, Apollo 11, where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to set foot on an alien land.  Launched on July 16, 1969 and landing on the moon on July 21, 1969.  I was a twenty-eight year old supporting that historic mission.

My favorite Apollo memory was performing my final walkdown of the launch tower just before launching Apollo 11. We were so aware of the enormity of what we were about to do. The MSS (mobile service structure) had been rolled back revealing the enormous Saturn V to full view. It was after dark and the spotlights were casting their cones of illumination on the stack. I was virtually alone on the tower as I examined every component of the LH2 system to be as sure as I could that "my" system would do its job. It was just me and the Saturn V with a bright moon overhead. I would look at the moon, then at the rocket and think, " I don't want to be anywhere but right where I am right now".

Long forgotten is the fact that the Apollo 11 launch was almost scrubbed on July 16. I was assigned to the launch console (C4HU) that maintained 100% liquid hydrogen level in the Saturn third stage that was used to propel the astronauts from earth orbit to the moon.  Late in the propellant loading as we were beginning the S-IV replenish operation, a large liquid hydrogen leak at -423 degrees occurred on the third stage replenish valve on the 200 foot level of the launch umbilical tower. Loading was terminated and the lines drained to prevent a fire or explosion and a Red Crew went to the Pad to fix the problem.

Using troubleshooting that I developed the Red Crew torqued packing and flange bolts and cycled the valve. Then we resumed liquid hydrogen flow, but were unsuccessful in stopping the leak that prevented maintaining the 100% fuel level in the Saturn third stage.  Without a full tank of liquid hydrogen there would be no launch.

Finally the leak was isolated by freezing the valve by pouring water over it, but that made the critical valve inoperable. We then developed a way to use the large main fill valve which was not intended for that purpose to maintain the level and the launch countdown could finally continue. For several hours another engineer (CPH1) manually cycled the valve from his console as I reported the tank level as it fell below or exceeded 100%. If we hadn't controlled the leak and maintained proper LH2 level the moon launch would have been scrubbed for at least July 16 and probably for several days.

The LH2 system had five propellant loading consoles in the Launch Control Center Firing Room and I operated one of them for every Apollo launch. On Apollo 13 I was finally assigned to the primary console that controlled the other four.  At the time I was the youngest engineer to have this responsibility.

The Apollo program ended with Apollo 17 in 1972. After that we used leftover Apollo and Saturn hardware for Skylab 1 through 4 and the Apollo-Soyuz project. I left to launch Atlas-Centaurs for five years and then returned to KSC for the Space Shuttle program where I was part of the Main Propulsion System, but that's another story.

 

Launching the Apollo 11 Spacecraft

by Steve Coester '63

In 1969 I was a twenty-eight year old system engineer working on the Saturn V rocket at Kennedy Space Center. I had been medically discharged from USN in 1964 after graduating from USNA in 1963. As the years passed I had forgotten what was exactly my involvement in the launch of Apollo 11. After one hundred and fifteen launches in my career the details had all run together.

Now on the fortieth anniversary of landing on the moon, I've been reminded that I had a leading role in a minor drama that could have resulted in a launch scrub preventing Apollo 11 from lifting off on its epic journey. It is an interesting footnote to that history.

I realize that most of you were off fighting a war while I was launching  men into space. A very weird time for America.

The Apollo 11 countdown was proceeding normally until about T-3 Hours when suddenly a serious liquid hydrogen leak occurred on the 200 foot level of the Launch Umbilical Tower. The Saturn third stage (SIV-B) hydrogen replenish valve was spewing flammable gas. Without the ability to maintain proper LH2 propellant levels the mission would be scrubbed.

I received this note from fellow Saturn LH2 engineer Jack Kramer after I told him I was confused that I couldn’t even remember if I was on the prime launch  crew or backup off shift crew for Apollo 11.

From: John Kramer  
Subject:  Re: Forty Years

Hi Steve,
 
You were  definitely in the Launch control Center for Apollo 11 launch.  You were C4HU for Apollo 11. I was CPH1. (these were launch console designators in the Apollo Saturn Firing Room/ Control Center)  You were in charge of the SIVB (the Saturn V third stage) level when we had to  bypass the  replenish valve because of the leaking valve that was cause for a launch scrub. I have the Procedure change you wrote so we could do it. Those were long days for all of the crew. You probably did the walkdown of the system on the launch tower and Saturn V and then came to the firing room to support the final countdown. It was always the best on night shift being next to that monster rocket in the floodlights with no one  else around. A spectacular sight. 
 
Here is an excerpt from the Public Affairs transcript of the launch I found on the NASA webpage. I highlighted the leaking valve bit.  Wayne Gray and Red Davis, a safety guy and I were on the launcher while you planned and wrote our troubleshooting procedures.  After failing at all traditional fixes we could think of to stop the leak like torquing bolts, etc. we warmed up the valve with the hard hat bucket brigade pouring water to enclose the leaking valve in a sheath of ice which stopped the leak but made the computer  controlled critical valve inoperable.  I came back to the firing room and you and I manually controlled the level by cycling the main fill valve using  the slow fill mode per your procedure.  It worked and launch proceeded on time. No harm no foul.  The rest is history.
 
Here's the Public Affairs Office transcripts:
 
PAO (Public Affairs  Officer): This is Apollo Saturn Launch Control; T minus 2 hours, 40  minutes, 40 seconds and counting. At this time, the prime crew for Apollo 11  has boarded the high-speed elevator from inside the A level of the mobile  launcher which is the second level inside the launcher. This is the high-speed  elevator; 600 feet per minute which will carry them to the 320-foot level, the  spacecraft level. Shortly, we'll expect astronauts Neil Armstrong and Michael  Collins to come across Swing Arm 9, the Apollo access arm, and proceed to the  white room and stand by to board the spacecraft. The third member of the crew,  astronaut Edwin Aldrin, will be the last one to board the spacecraft, will  stand by in the elevator seated in a chair while his two comrades first board  the spacecraft. Once Armstrong, who sits in the left-hand seat, and   Collins, who will sit in the right-hand seat during lift-off are aboard,  then Aldrin will be called and he will take his seat, the middle seat in the  spacecraft, The spacecraft Commander Neil Armstrong and the Command Module  Pilot Michael Collins now proceeding across the swing arm into the small white  room that attaches at the spacecraft level. In the meantime, about 100  feet below, we have a technician – a team of technicians working on a leaking  valve which is a part of the Ground Support Equipment, a part of the system  that's used to replenish the fuel supply for the third stage of the Saturn V  rocket. He is proceeding to tighten a series of bolts around this valve in the  hope that this will correct the leak. Once the technicians do depart, the  hydrogen will again be flowed through the system to assure that the leak has  been corrected. The spacecraft Commander Neil Armstrong and CMP, the  Command Module Pilot Mike Collins, now standing by in the white room. T  minus 2 hours, 38 minutes, 45 seconds and counting; this is Launch Control.

PAO: This is Apollo Saturn Launch Control; T minus 2 hours, 34  minutes, 44 seconds and counting. The spacecraft Commander Neil Armstrong now  aboard the Apollo 11 spacecraft at the 320-foot level at the pad. We had it  logged having the commander go over the sill into the cabin at 6:54am Eastern  Daylight. Since that time, the commander has now been tied into the system and  has checked in over the communication lines. He was wished a 'Good morning' by  the spacecraft test conductor Skip Chauvin and Armstrong in return said it  looks like a good morning. In the meantime, 120 feet below him, the  technicians continuing to work to tighten bolts around a leaking valve  associated with the system that replenishes hydrogen fuel for the third stage.  To repeat once again, this is not a problem on the launch  vehicle  itself, but on the ground support equipment associated with it. T  minus 2 hours, 33 minutes, 45 seconds and counting; this is Kennedy Launch  Control.

PAO: This is Apollo Saturn Launch Control; T minus 2 hours, 30  minutes, 55 seconds and counting. Right on the hour, the Command Module Pilot,  astronaut Michael Collins, who'll be sitting on the right-hand side of the  spacecraft during lift-off, boarded the spacecraft. We had it logged at 7am  Eastern Daylight Time. The third member of the crew, astronaut Buzz Aldrin,  standing by in the elevator around the corner along the swing arm from the  White Room and the spacecraft at the 320-foot level. 120 feet below,  technicians still working on some bolts that surround a leaking valve that is  associated with a system that replenishes the hydrogen fuel supply to the  third stage of the Saturn V rocket. Our countdown proceeding at this  time; coming up toward the 2 minute and 30 minute ma... 30 second...  the  2 hour and 30 minute mark in the count. This is Kennedy Launch Control.

PAO: This is Apollo Saturn Launch Control; T minus 2 hours, 23  minutes, 46 seconds and counting. The third member of the Apollo 11 prime crew  now aboard the spacecraft. We had it logged at 7:07am Eastern Daylight Time  when astronaut Buzz Aldrin boarded the spacecraft. He'll sit in the middle  seat during lift-off. As Lunar Module Pilot, his normal position would be on  the right-hand side. However, due to crew preference, we have the Commander of  course, Neil Armstrong, sitting on the left-hand side. The Lunar Module Pilot  for the overall flight, Buzz Aldrin, sitting in the middle seat, and the  Command Module Pilot Mike Collins sitting in the right-hand seat at lift-off.  Down below, at the 200-foot level, our technicians still hard at work  still tightening bolts around a valve associated with the  system that  replenishes the hydrogen fuel for the third stage of the Saturn V launch  vehicle. This is ground support equipment located on the tower at the pad at  the 200-foot level. He continues to work at the 200-foot level as  the crew in the White Room does the same with the three astronauts aboard. We  actually have a fourth astronaut still aboard the spacecraft at this time,  astronaut Fred Haise, who is the back-up Command Module Pilot. He is in the  Lower Equipment Bay of the spacecraft, giving a helping hand to the three  prime crewmen as they start to perform some of their preliminary checks here  as we head down over the final 2 hours – 21Ž2 hours of the countdown. We're at  T minus 2 hours, 22 minutes, 11  seconds and counting; this is Kennedy  Launch Control.
[In fact, Fred Haise is the back-up Lunar Module  Pilot. The other back-up crew members are Commander Jim Lovell and Command  Module Pilot Bill Anders.]

PAO: This is Apollo Saturn Launch Control. We've just passed  the 2-hour, 21-minute mark in our countdown and we are proceeding at this  time. At the 320-foot level, all three astronauts now aboard the spacecraft. Just a few minutes ago, astronaut Buzz Aldrin came in and took the center seat  to join Neil Armstrong on the left and Mike Collins on the right. These are  the positions they will fly at lift-off. During the process of getting the  astronauts checked into the spacecraft, communication cables must be attached  to their suits. They also have to hook into the suit circuit system of the  spacecraft that brings oxygen into their suits. They are helped by a fourth  astronaut on board, the back-up Command Module Pilot, astronaut Fred Haise, who is in the Lower Equipment Bay, and one of the suit technicians, who's  located behind them to give a  hand as they check in. We've heard from  Neil Armstrong, and now we've also heard from Mike Collins on comm checks, and  we're standing by for further reports as the checkout continues. 120 feet down, the work continues on a leaky valve at the 200-foot level. This is  ground support equipment. The technicians still hard at work tightening bolts  around that valve at this time. 2 hours, 19 minutes, 45 seconds and counting;  this is Kennedy Launch Control.

PAO: This is Apollo Saturn Launch Control; T minus 2 hours, 10  minutes, 35 seconds and counting. At the 320-foot level, the fourth astronaut  aboard the spacecraft regretfully leaves at this time. Astronaut Fred Haise is  about to come out after giving the three prime crewmen a hand in their  preliminary checkouts aboard. Fred Haise will be coming out shortly. In the  meantime, 120 feet below, where we have that problem with the leaking valve,  the technicians have completed their work and they are in the process now of  departing from the launch pad. In a short while, we'll start flowing hydrogen  again back through the general replenishing system to continue the top-off –  the supply of the hydrogen fuel to the third stage of the Saturn V launch  vehicle. The spacecraft Commander Neil Armstrong has completed a series of  checks called abort  advisory system checks. This is where certain key  crewmen on the ground, members of the launch team, can send signals to the  commander in the spacecraft; light cues that would indicate a difficulty  during the flight in which he could take abort action if he determined that  such action was necessary. These checks have been completed and Neil Armstrong  confirmed that the lights came on in the console in front of him, the panel in  front of him as these lights were operated from the ground here in the Launch  Control Center. All still going well with our count. We will stand by as  we again bring hydrogen back to the third stage. We will see how that  operates. We're now at T minus 2 hours, 9 minutes, 4 seconds and  counting and this is Kennedy Launch  Control.

PAO: This is Apollo Saturn Launch Control; T minus 2 hours, 7  minutes and counting. At this time we're just in the process of closing the  hatch on the Apollo 11 spacecraft. Several of the close-out crew shook hands  with the astronauts and then proceeded to close the hatch on direction from  the Spacecraft Test Conductor Skip Chauvin. We had it logged as the hatch  being closed and tightened – still being tightened right at this time which is  25 minutes past the hour. Once the hatch is closed, we will start a cabin  purge to condition the cabin inside. The three astronauts, of course, are on  pure oxygen in their space suits on the suit circuit. We will produce a cabin  atmosphere in the spacecraft of a 60/40 combination; 60% oxygen and 40%  nitrogen. This is the atmosphere used for lift-off. Once that is accomplished,  the close-out crew will be  ready to put the Boost Protective Cover on  the hatch and continue with their close-out. The hatch being closed at this  time. We are proceeding. We'll stand by to see how our hydrogen  condition is, as far as replenishing the hydrogen fuel supply with the third  stage of the Saturn V. 2 hours, 5 minutes, 50 seconds and counting; this is  Kennedy Launch Control.

PAO: This is Apollo Saturn Launch Control. We're at T minus 2  hours, 55 seconds and counting. We're approaching the 2-hour mark in our  countdown and we appear to be proceeding satisfactorily at this time. The crew  aboard the spacecraft, the 320-foot level, the hatch is closed and we're  beginning to purge the cabin to bring it to the proper atmosphere for launch  which is a combination of oxygen and nitrogen; 60% oxygen and 40% nitrogen  atmosphere. Of course, the astronauts themselves are breathing pure oxygen  through their space suits. Coming up shortly will be another key test in which  both the launch crew for the – the launch vehicle crew and the spacecraft team  combine together with the Commander Neil Armstrong to make a thorough check of  the Emergency Detection System. This is the system that will signal the  astronauts in the cabin if  anything goes wrong below them. We used a  ground-based computer to accomplish this test. It's rather lengthy as these  tests go, using a computer. It will take some 30 minutes. Neil Armstrong will  be doing most of the work in the spacecraft, responding as different cue  lights, signifying different difficulties, are presented to him. The abort  panel, of course, is across from the commander on the left-hand side, the  left-front of the spacecraft. Our countdown continuing; T minus 1 hour, 59  minutes, 34 seconds and counting; this is Kennedy Launch Control.

PAO: This is Apollo Saturn Launch Control; T minus 1 hour, 50 minutes, 55 seconds and counting. We're proceeding with the countdown with the  Apollo 11 mission at this time and it's going satisfactorily. At this point,  the spacecraft Commander Neil Armstrong in the process of working the  Emergency Detection System test. This is a check of the Emergency Detection  System working with the launch crew here in the firing room and also the  spacecraft team in control rooms back at the Manned Spacecraft Operations  building here at the Kennedy Space Center. All going well with these tests at  the present time. We're flowing hydrogen back into the third  stage  of the Saturn V launch vehicle after having difficulty with that leaking  valve. It appears that we are bypassing the use of the valve directly in  loading the hydrogen aboard, but we are getting the hydrogen back in to  replenish the supply. All appears to be going well at this time. Weather is  Go. We're coming up on 1 hour and 50 minutes. This is Kennedy Launch Control.
 
PAO (Public Affairs Officer): This is Apollo  Saturn Launch Control; T minus 1 hour, 30 minutes, 55 seconds and counting.  All elements are Go with the countdown at this time, the countdown aimed at  landing two astronauts on the Moon. At this time the Spacecraft Test Conductor  Skip Chauvin going through some checks with astronaut Mike Collins aboard the  spacecraft. We're winding up this important Emergency Detection System test  that Neil Armstrong has been participating in. Meanwhile, at the 320-foot  level, the close-out crew now placing the Boost Protective Cover over the  hatch now that we have completed the cabin purge and have the proper  environment inside the cabin. We have also performed leak checks to assure  ourselves that the cabin atmosphere is valid. This Boost Protective Cover is  used during the early phases of the powered flight and  it is jettisoned  with the escape tower shortly after second stage ignition. Here in the  firing room, the launch vehicle test team's still keeping a close eye on the  status of the propellants aboard the Saturn V launch vehicle. We're back to  100 percent supply with the liquid hydrogen fuel in the third stage. This  problem with the leaking valve is no problem at this time. We've actually  bypassed the valve but we are maintaining our hydrogen supply aboard the  vehicle. All aspects Go. The weather is very satisfactory for launch  this morning. A thin cloud cover about 15,000 feet. Temperature at launch time  expected to be about 85 degrees. T minus 1 hour, 29 minutes, 30 seconds and  counting; this is Kennedy Launch Control.

PAO: This is Apollo Saturn Launch Control; T minus 1 hour, 20  minutes, 55 seconds and counting. All still Go with the countdown for Apollo  11 at this time. At this point in the countdown, spacecraft Commander Neil  Armstrong once again appears to be the busiest worker in the spacecraft as he  is performing a series of alignment checks associated with the guidance system  in the spacecraft. He's working these checks with the Spacecraft Test  Conductor as the Spacecraft Test Conductor reads out the various procedures  and Armstrong responds to them. The astronauts aboard the spacecraft also were  informed by the spacecraft conductor a short while ago that the launch vehicle  is Go at this time. The hydrogen problem that we did encounter earlier  has been solved. "That's real good news," said Armstrong and  then he  went back to work shortly thereafter. We're now coming up on the 1 hour, 20  minute mark in the countdown; this is Kennedy Launch  Control.