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Spaceweek National Banquet

 The Wally Trebes Incident
Photo Credit:s Mine
Program Cover from Spaceweek 1990 National Banquet
Program Listing from Spaceweek 1990 National Banquet
1990 Spaceweek National Banquet Program Cover
 Spaceweek 1990 National Banquet Program
The Spaceweek 1990 National Banquet was held on July 16th, 1990.  I attended this with my friend and fellow space enthusiast, Mark Shelton.

In 1990, I was still a newbie when it came to meeting astronauts.  I looked up at them as heroes.  People who achieved fame well beyond what mere mortals could do.   That mind set and an incredible amount of shyness on my part made meeting astronauts a big stretch for me.

Mark and I got to the hotel and went to the reception before the banquet.  We floated among the people looking to see if we recognized any astronauts.   I was excited.  I knew there were astronauts in this crowd, but I didn’t know how to spot them.  Mark had a lot more experience at meeting astronauts.

I saw one older gentleman who was wearing a tux with a red sash across his chest.  This man stood out in the crowd.  I asked Mark who that person was.  Mark looked and said, “That’s Wally Schirra.”  My heart jumped.  Of all the astronauts that I wanted to meet, Wally Schirra was probably my all time favorite.  I asked Mark if he was sure.  Mark told me that without a doubt that was Wally Schirra.

I worked up the courage to go over to the gentleman and introduce myself.  I’m sure my voice was very meek during the introduction.  I asked the many if he was “WALLY Schirra”.  I emphasized the “WALLY” because I’m sure my voice must have trailed off during the “Schirra.”  The man smiled and said he was Wally.  Wow it was him, or so I thought.

I then asked the man, “Mr. Schirra, would you mind signing my copy of Home Planet?”  The man stopped, “What did you call me?”  I replied “Mr. Schirra?”  The man asserted, “I am not Wally Schirra.”  I wilted like flower suffering under the afternoon Texas sun.

I know that he told me that he wasn’t Schirra, but I didn’t know whether or not I should believe him.  The real Wally Schirra is a big practical joker.  Maybe this was one of his jokes.  I didn’t wait around to find out.  I’m sure my face was red as a beet at this point.  I apologized, thanked the man for his time and beat a hasty retreat.  I had gone down in flames badly.  There are probably still scorch marks on the carpet where I crashed.

I rejoined Mark and told him what had just transpired.  Mark was surprised and said he would go over and talk to the gentleman.  I was more than gun shy at this point.  I needed a Scotch from the open bar.  I didn’t smoke, but would have considered taking it up if offered.

Mark came back with a big grin on his face.  He told me that man was really not Wally Schirra.  His name actually was “Wally Trebes”.  He was a former NASA employee and just by sheer coincidence had the first name of Wally.   I swear he did bear a resemblance to the real Wally Schirra. 

Mark thought all of this was great fun.   I never let will let Mark live that one down.  I maintained that he knew all along that it wasn’t Wally Schirra.  This became known as “The Wally Trebes Incident.”  It took a long time before I ever trusted Mark’s observations again.

There were four real astronauts at the banquet that I actually recognized.  These I did not have to rely on Mark’s judgment for.  The four astronauts were Vance Brand, Dan Brandenstein, Paul Weitz, and Harrison Schmitt.  Schmitt gave the keynote speech at the banquet, so recognizing him was a given.

After the banquet, I met the four astronauts and got their signatures.   I introduced myself to Vance Brand.  He turned around and introduced me to his gorgeous wife.  I was shocked that he took the time to introduce me to someone.  He treated me like a real person.   I couldn’t believe it.  That was neat.

Schmitt was also easy to approach and was very accommodating.  I showed Schmitt a photo that I had taken on the far side of the Island of Cozumel in 1988.   In that photo was a small rocket shaped water tower on the top of a building.  On the side of the water tower were painted the words, “Apollo 17, voyages de la Luna.”

It intrigued me, what the connection was between Cozumel and Apollo 17.  Since Schmitt was an Apollo 17 crew member, I felt certain, that I would get an answer.  Schmitt looked at the photo and said that he had no idea why that was there.  He told me that I should ask Gene Cernan.  I didn’t get my question answered, but it was neat to ask.   Dr. Schmitt was the fifth moonwalker for me to me.

So my first Spaceweek Banquet turned out pretty well.  I recovered from the “Wally Trebes” incident and actually made contact with real astronauts.  In reciprocity, it was neat that they treated me like a real person.


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UPDATED : February 20, 2007
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