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Apollo 7 40th

Apollo 7 40th Anniversary Luncheon

Apollo 7's 40th Anniversary
Photographs from Frontiers of Flight museum Luncheon.   Photo Credits: mine
Tables set up for the Apollo 7 40th Anniversary Luncheon
Tables and buffet line set up before the Apollo 40th Anniversary Luncheon.
Saturn 1B Table Centerpiece
Apollo Artifacts on Display
A Saturn 1B  table centerpiece.
Apollo artifacts on display at  the FOF Museum.
Neil Armstrong after the Apollo 7 40th Annivesary Program
The first man to walk on the Moon, Neil Armstrong after the Apollo 7 40th Anniversary Luncheon.
Walt and friends pose with the Apollo 7 Command Module
Walt and friends pose in front of the 40 year old spacecraft, the Apollo 7 Command Module.
Walt Cunningham, Bill Anders, and Buzz Aldrin share a laugh
Walt Cunningham, Bill Anders, and Buzz Aldrin share a laugh after the luncheon.
Mary and me with General Bill Anders
Apollo 8 Astronaut, General Bill Anders, poses for a photo with Mary and me.
What an incredible event the 40th Anniversary of Apollo 7 was at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas, Texas. I have to thank Farris Rookstool, III and the Frontiers of Flight Museum for my invitation. It was a first class event and I felt privileged to be one of the select few that were invited.

Leading up to the event, I had no idea who was going to attend. I assumed Walt Cunningham would be there since it was his flight. I also heard that NASA Administrator Michael Griffin might be there. Beyond that anyone else was a surprise for me.

I left work at about 10 AM to go home and change into my suit for the event. When I got in my car I happened to have the radio on WBAP. I was surprised to hear that Mark Davis was broadcasting live from the Frontiers of Flight Museum.

He was introducing the people that would be on the panel discussion. The first name that I heard announced was Fort Worth's native son, Alan Bean. Bean is a wonderful man and an extremely talented artist, so it is always neat to see him. Then the second announcement made my jaw drop. Davis introduced General Bill Anders. Wow, I've been at a lot of astronaut related events over the years, but only two times previously had General Anders attended one of those events. This added a great deal of excitement as I drove home.

The next two people introduced were Administrator Michael Griffin and Gene Kranz. It just kept getting better. I had seen Dan Goldin a couple of times when he was administrator but never had an opportunity to see nor hear Griffin. Kranz of course is a wonderful man, whom I have a great deal of respect for.

I got home, parked the car and rushed back to the bedroom. I turned on the clock radio and twiddled the dial to get to WBAP. My wife Mary must have thought I had lost it, when I rushed to the radio before greeting her. When I found the station, I heard a man talking. Wait a minute; I know that voice; that is none other than Neil Armstrong! Zowee, jackpot! Having Anders attend was enough, but to have Armstrong there was unbelievable!

We hopped in the car and headed over to the museum. I was as excited as a child on Christmas morning. I've been to a lot of events and in the beginning I always felt this way when I went to one. However over the years as you get more experience the excitement level subsides even though you may enjoy the event just as much.

Mary and I got to the museum while the panel discussion was still going on in the auditorium. We milled around by the banquet tables waiting for the luncheon to start. While we were standing there we saw the Director of the museum, Bruce Bleakley. We introduced ourselves and he was genuinely happy to see us there.

He then took us over to see the museum's latest space acquisition. It was an SPS engine and bell from the service module. It was hanging from the ceiling and was displayed with a light in the nozzle, so that you could see where it had been test fired. It is a really a nice artifact.

Mary and I also saw Dot Cunningham by herself in the midst of the banquet tables. Dot has always been the warmest and most friendly person that we've ever met. We went over to greet her and offer our congratulations on the anniversary celebration. She gave Mary and me a big hug, and complimented us, "You guys are so dependable."

The banquet tables with the Saturn 1B's look absolutely stunning. My first thought was I hope they offer to sell these after the event. At 1/70 scale, they were huge and had amazing detail.

Soon the floodgates opened and people started coming into the banquet area upon completion of the panel discussion. I noticed General Anders come in. I saw the first man to set foot on the Moon, Neil Armstrong walking in to the banquet area. Armstrong was being escorted by Farris. I had hoped to tell Farris hello and thank him for the invitation, but I could see that Farris as on a mission. He was focused on getting Armstrong where he needed to be.

Mary and I went and found seats at a table. The format of the luncheon was buffet style and soon it was announced that the buffet line was open. Mary and I beat the rush and were about the 4th or 5th people in line. That way we would have our meal over with by the time the speakers program started. The food was donated to the museum by Maggiano's restaurant. I don't think the buffet line, did their food justice. It's fantastic in the restaurant, but serving conditions at a buffet really make it hard for them to put out their best.

Mark Davis, a talk show host at WBAP was master of ceremonies for the banquet. Like the rest of us on this message board, Mark is a dyed in the wool, self avowed space geek. He has a tremendous amount of enthusiasm when it comes to space exploration.

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison was introduced and gave the opening remarks for the celebration. She is on the museum's board of directors and has been a great help in getting this Air & Space museum off the ground.

A NASA 50th anniversary video was shown. It was fun to revisit the early launches leading to the Moon. Then the subject of the Apollo 1 fire came up. The feeling of fun turned to sadness. It happened over 41 years ago, but when I saw Gus, Ed, and Roger on the screen, I felt an empty place in my heart.

The video continued through the Apollo triumph and forward to the shuttle program. I knew that after the Apollo 1 spot on the video, STS-51L would soon be mentioned. It was again sad to relive those memories. The return to flight brought happiness again.

But there was one more tragedy left to recognize, it was the breakup of Columbia on STS-107. This one nearly brought tears to my eyes. I personally witnessed Columbia's flaming destruction from my front yard on that ill-fated day in 2003 and it was painful to reflect upon it. The video was over and I was glad. Let's get back to celebrating what we were here for.

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin was announced. Much to my surprise and delight announced that he was going to present to the Apollo 7 crew with the NASA Distinguished Service medal. Apollo 7 was the only Apollo crew to not have received this NASA recognition.

I understand the reasons why this was not done back in 1969. When you reflect from a historical perspective though, this 11 day test flight of a never been flown manned space vehicle had an integral and valuable place in our success of orbiting and then landing on the Moon.

For the embattled crew the award was 39 years too late. Griffin said that he consulted with the NASA old guard and that the conclusion was reached that it was time to honor the Apollo 7 crew. It was time to honor them with the same honor that the rest of the Apollo contemporaries received. I felt really happy for Walt.

Bill Anders accepted the award on behalf of the Schirra family. Donn Eisele's wife accepted the award on behalf of the Eisele family. She commented that she was glad that NASA finally got around to recognizing the Apollo 7 crew. Even if the crew wasn't always heroes to NASA, they were always heroes to the families. Walt of course accepted his own award.

Buzz and Lois Aldrin showed up after the program had started. They weren't sure if they could make it and had just gotten in from College Station, TX. So now we had the first two men to land on the Moon, present at this celebration.

Anders and Bean gave personal tributes to Walt. Bean's was really interesting. He said that being a painter, he doesn't have time to focus on learning about world events. He said that when he needs to know about how he should feel about something like global warming he asks Walt. He said that he has always respected Walt and his opinions and if it is good enough for Walt, it is good enough for him.

For a while I didn't think Neil was going to say anything. But he was announced after Bean and got up to talk. He seemed a little awkward behind the podium at first and started out by saying, he remembers what he learned in speech class years ago, "you decide what to say, you say it, then you say it again." He said that he was the "say it again" part because everything about Walt had already been said by the people before him. The awkwardness passed and Neil actually gave a really nice tribute and it turned out the longest one. Really cool hearing the first man to have set foot on the Moon speak at an event in person.

A video tribute was played that was comprised of personal messages to Walt from people who could not be there. Former President George Bush congratulated Walt. The mayor of Houston, Texas Governor Rick Perry and several others that I do not recall gave tributes. Ed Mitchell gave a greeting from what appeared to be his home and said that he was really enjoying the anniversary celebration.

Chris Kraft was on the video and his words seemed to have an odd tone to me. To me it seemed like Kraft had decided that it was time to bury the hatchet. I felt good about that.

Current President Bush came on the video. Wow. Just a video greeting, but still very powerful message to hear from a sitting President no matter what your political inclination is.

Then Walt's grand-kids and great grand-kids gave a tribute to Grand Poppa. It was very touching. The toddler at the end just blew Walt a big kiss. It was probably the audiences' favorite tribute on the video.

The program was long but thoroughly enjoyable. Dot Cunningham was instrumental in putting the whole thing together. She told us that she had been working on it since July without Walt even knowing about it.

There were goody bags on the chairs which had a neat video, a couple of space related magazines, an Apollo 7 tribute medallion, eye glass cleaner, a space pen and for some lucky people a red ticket for an autographed copy of Walt's audio version of "All American Boys".

Mary and I went over to talk with Lois Aldrin. At first I didn't think she would remember us from Cabo San Lucas but she did. She and Buzz were flying to Paris right afterward to attend the premier of the "Flying to the Moon" 3D movie in France.

I didn't approach Neil, because I had met him before and there were plenty of people who wanted to meet him. Plus he was busy enough just talking with the other astronauts.

The rest of the astronauts hung around for quite a while after the event. I was amazed that Anders was still there. Finally Mary and I approached him to ask for a photo with him. He was happy to oblige. The director of the museum took the photo for us.

I reached out to shake Anders' hand to thank him. He was holding a video in one hand and something else in the other though so he only stuck out his index finger. So I shook his finger. I had to chuckle about that. That was probably the very same finger that took the spectacular earth rise photo from lunar orbit on Apollo 8.

They were selling the Saturn 1B centerpieces to raise money the "Be An Angel" Foundation which benefits children with disabilities. Mary and I bought one of the centerpieces. Not only was the construction of the models outstanding, they had a nice Plexiglas stand that was etched with the date of the anniversary celebration as well as the dates of the mission.

After most people had left and things were winding down, we arranged to have Walt sign our Saturn 1B model. It is truly an impressive piece and looks simply marvelous in my library. It is a nice remembrance from an out of this world event.

Walt was sitting at the next table with a couple of his great grand-kids. He looked over at me at told me hello. I got up to congratulate him and shake his hand. He told me, "I see you more than I see anybody else." I hope that was a compliment, ;-) and I think it was.

The Cunningham's are outstanding people. They have done a tremendous amount for the Frontiers of Flight Museum and I felt honored to witness them receive the recognition that they so justly deserve.

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UPDATED : October 25, 2008
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