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The Events

Buzz Aldrin
Charlie Duke
Apollo 11

Charlie Duke

Field of Dreams
Photo Credits Mine

Mary, Andy, and I met up at the seafood restaurant in Addison, Texas.  It was across the street from Taylor's Bookstore.  We were fresh off of our encounter with Buzz Aldrin at the bookstore signing.  We were on cloud nine.

Mary, Andy, and I met up at the seafood restaurant in Addison, Texas.  It was across the street from Taylor’s Bookstore.  We were fresh off of our encounter with Buzz Aldrin at the bookstore signing.  We were on cloud nine.

During our dinner the subject of trying to meet Apollo 16 Moonwalker Charlie Duke came up. Mary had been trying to arrange a meeting with him for me.  This action was the result of a bet that Mary and I had made.

Let me step back for a few weeks before this dinner to explain the bet.  I had just finished reading the book For All Mankind by Harry Hurt III.  In that book it told about what the Moonwalkers were currently up to.  I read that Charlie Duke was living in New Braunfels, Texas.  My wheels started turning and I got the idea that it might be possible to meet General Duke.  I filed that thought away for future reference.

A little later I took my girlfriend Mary out on a date to see the movie Field of Dreams on a date.   Watching the movie I was inspired by character and Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella.  Ray followed his dream and drove to meet his idol author Terence Mann.  That got me to thinking again about meeting Charlie Duke.  If Ray Kinsella from Iowa could meet his hero, so could Jerry, from a farm in Nebraska.

After the movie, Mary and I went across the street to the Atlantic Café.  This was great Seafood restaurant in Addison.  We were enjoying our meal and our bread when the subject of my grandfather came up.  I told Mary, that one of the last things that my grandfather had told me was, ‘When you find a woman to marry, make sure that she can bake kolaches.” For a person of Czech ancestry, kolaches are like a staple of life.  I figured that my grandfather was kidding me with his statement but at the same time maybe he was serious.

Mary prided herself on her ability to cook.  Her grandmother had her kneading bread almost from the point where Mary was old enough to walk.  Mary was confident that since kolaches are made from dough, surely she could make them.

Mary regarded baking kolaches a challenge.  It seemed like a great opportunity for a friendly wager.  Mary had an eye on a blue and white flowered dress at Dillard’s department store.  It was an expensive dress and she would never have considered buying it for herself.  I told her that if she won the bet and the kolaches came out good, I would buy her that dress.

Mary asked me what I wanted if she lost the bet.  Fresh out of the movie Field of Dreams, it didn't take me long to decide.  I told her  that if she lost the bet, she would have to arrange a meeting for me with Moonwalker Charlie Duke.  Mary accepted the terms of the bet.

I was working the next weekend as I usually did back then.  I came over to Mary's house on Saturday to visit her.  On the kitchen table was a note with Charlie Duke's address, home phone number, and business phone number.   I still have that note. Mary didn't need to say a word.  I knew what happened.  She had attempted to bake kolaches.

In her haste to get them finished before I got off work, she placed the pan of dough on the warm oven door.  This would speed the rising process of the dough.  Well it sped it up to fast.  The dough rose and collapsed and the kolaches turned into bricks.

As a backup she then made another pan of kolaches only this time did not accelerate the rise time.  That pan of kolaches turned out fine. The result of our bet ventured into a gray area.  Mary failed to back kolaches and succeeded in baking kolaches at the same time. In fairness, it was decided that Mary would attempt to arrange the meeting and I would buy her the dress.

On Monday, I got a call at work from Mary.  She told me that she had talked with Charlie Duke's assistant.  Mary told the assistant how I had taken photos of Duke's moonwalk off of the television back in 1972.  She said that I would like to meet Duke to have him sign a couple of the photos. The assistant told Mary that Duke's schedule was incredibly busy.  At the end of the week he was leaving for a month long trip to Russia.   If I wanted the photos signed, all I had to do was mail them to Duke's office and they would be taken care of.

I don't remember what specifically I said to Mary after learning the news, but the tone of my voice imparted my deep disappointment over not being able to meet Duke.  Later, Mary told me that was the moment that she realized that she loved me.  That feeling came as a big surprise to her.  She was not ready to be in love again, but she could not bear to hear me disappointed.

Wednesday came around and we met Buzz Aldrin at the Taylor’s bookstore.  I will now resume the story from that evening at our post book signing dinner.

Andy and I contemplated the possibility of meeting Duke on his home turf just like Mark Shelton had done.  He proved that it was possible.  Andy and I hem hawed back and forth if we should attempt contact someday.

Mary piped up, “I don't know why you guys just don't drive down there tonight and meet him in the morning.”  She knew that he was still in town, but was leaving for Russia in two days.  He would be gone on a month long trip.  Mary added, “After all, he's only a man.”  He was only a man?  Mary obviously was not a true believer, but we humored her.

Andy said to me, “I'm game if you are.”  I think he expected me to decline, but I surprised him.  I said, “Okay, lets do it!’  We finished dinner and made the rest of our plans.

Andy would go home and get his clothes.  On the way he would drive into work and send email to our bosses.  He would tell them that we would not be into work the next day, because we were having dinner with an astronaut.  Mary would go home and get Duke's office phone number.  I would go to my apartment and retrieve the photos that I had from Apollo 16.

I called Mary for the Duke contact information.  Andy and I rendezvoused and began our drive to New Braunfels.  We took my car.  It was about midnight and we had just gotten to the south side of Austin.  We pulled off the road to check into a motel.

The next morning, Andy told me that he had a dream about John Young and a corned beef sandwich.  I didn't know if this was sign about our hoped for meeting with Duke, or if it just meant that Andy was craving corned beef.  We checked out of the motel and drove south towards New Braunfels.

The first phase of our plan was now complete, we were in New Braunfels.  I pulled off the freeway and into the parking lot of a convenience store.  This was well before the era of cell phones so we needed to use a pay phone to try and contact Duke.

I really wanted Andy to make the call.  Andy declined.  He told me that he would just freeze up like when he first met Alan Shepard.  I don't think Andy realized just how shy of a person I really was.  I didn't like using the telephone to call someone that I knew, yet alone attempting a call to a man that walked on the Moon.

I even told Andy I’d supply the quarter if he did the talking.  He was having none of that.  We discussed flipping a coin to decide.  Finally Andy said he would tell me what to say if I got on the phone.  I knew that wasn't going to work, but I could tell that I was getting no where in trying to convince Andy to make the call.

I swallowed hard and made the call.  Duke's assistant answered the phone.  I gave her my name and asked her if it would be possible to meet Mr. Duke this morning.  I said that my friend and I had a couple of photos that we would like to have him sign and we would really like to meet him.  The assistant said that no, Mr. Duke was just too busy.  If we would like the photos signed just drop them in the mail and she would personally see that they were signed.

We were in a flat spin and going down fast.  I was getting no where. In my mind I told myself “Think, think!  Pull up, pull up! Figure out someway to salvage this mission.”   I told the assistant that we actually had driven to New Braunfels and asked if it would be Okay to just drop the photos off.  She said no, it would be better just to mail them.  I then mentioned that these were photos that I had taken off of the television back in 1972 during Duke's Apollo 16 moonwalk.

The last piece of information about the photos taken off of the television got us a foot in the door.  The assistant said “Oh you must be the person whose girl friend called me earlier in the week.”  I told her that indeed, I was that person.

With that revelation, the assistant relented and told me that we could come to the office to drop the photos off.  She gave me directions on how to get there.  I thanked her and told her that we would see her in a few minutes.  I hung up the receiver dejected.  I had tried all that I could think of to get us an audience with General Duke.  It just was not going to happen.  Still I felt better that at least we could drop the photos off at the office.

We drove to the town square as we were directed.  We looked and looked for the building, but couldn't find it.  Now New Braunfels is not that large of a town that you shouldn't be able to find a building on the town square.  We drove around the square again.  The only possibility for the building was a nondescript old looking stone building with no signs or advertisement.  Even the street number was hard to find.   We pulled into the parking lot and finally saw the street number matched our address.

Okay we were here. I had my camera with me but left it in the car.  No sense taking it in to take a picture of the receptionist.  We entered the building.  The reception area was rather stark or barren.  There was an inexpensive brown naugahyde couch to one side of the room.  The floor had green carpeting.  The walls were brown paneling.  There were no windows.   On the wall opposite of the couch was a door.

On the wall opposite of the entrance to the building there was a small opening with a window.  It reminded me a lot of dentist offices that I had been in.  We approached the window to talk with the receptionist.  That wasn't just the receptionist, it was Charlie Duke's assistant.

We told here who we were and I showed her my photos from the TV.  She thought those were pretty neat.  She asked us if we knew that it was the 25th anniversary of Apollo 11.  We replied that we did know that and had just seen Buzz Aldrin yesterday.  She asked us if we had seen the Apollo 11 special that was on television.

We told her that we missed it.  She told us that Charlie was interviewed on the special.  He was Capcom during the Moon landing.  The television special did a kind of then and now piece.  She said that Charlie looked really good on the special.  I told her that we would have to catch if the did a repeat of the program.

I assumed at that point that our conversation was coming to a close.   I thought we would give her our mailing addresses and be off.  She surprised me and said, “Why don't you two take a seat.  Charlie is on the phone right now, but I will try and sneak these photos on his desk and get him to sign them.  I can't promise anything, but I might be able to get them done.”

Andy and I sat down on the naugahyde couch.  Perhaps our drive to New Braunfels wasn't totally in vain.  If we could return with at least the autographs, it would have been a partial success.  We waited for a few minutes for the assistant to return.

Instead of the assistant coming back to the open window, the door across from the couch opened up.  In the doorway was the assistant with our photos.  They had been autographed.  Behind the assistant was Charlie Duke!!!  Holy Toledo, it was the man.

The assistant introduced us to Duke.  We told him that we were honored to meet him.  We talked some about taking the photos off of the television.  He seemed really interested in that.  I showed him some other photos from the television that I had taken.  I show him one where he was holding a rock.  I said, “I think you called that rock, the muley rock.”  Duke smiled, “That was a big ole rock.”

I had Duke sign three photos.  Two from the television and one Apollo 16 crew lithograph.  Duke asked me what I was going to do with all the signed photos.  I told him that I was just going to hang them on my wall to remind me of Apollo 16.

Duke made a comment to the effect of , “We sure don't do adventure like that anymore.”  I was surprised.  I told him that I thought the space shuttle was still pretty exciting.  He agreed, but didn't think it was on the same level that going to the Moon was.  He was right.

I asked Duke if he ever got together with his former crew mate John Young.  Duke said that once in a while they had reunions where they got together.

We had talked for nearly 10 minutes.  He was most gracious. Duke apologized for having to leave, but said that he had a meeting in San Antonio that he had to leave for and it was at least a 20 minute drive.  We thanked Duke for his time and said that we understood his need to leave.

Andy and I exited the building and returned to my car.  In there I saw my camera.  I wished I would have had the camera with me so that we could have had a photo taken with Duke.  I knew thought that it was the right thing to do to leave the camera behind.

Andy and I were floating.  We met Charlie Duke and he was the nicest person in the world that you would want to meet.  We head back and stopped off at a town called West, Texas.  That is the Czech capital of Texas and there was a Czech bakery where we stopped.  We got some kolaches.

This trip had come full circle.  It's origin was in baking kolaches and its completion was capped off with a kolache.  We took a gamble and it paid off.  It paid off big time.  I owed all of it to Mary.  Without her support and insistence, it never would have happened.

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UPDATED : February 23, 2007
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