The world lost a great man on May 3, 2007. Walter
Marty Schirra Jr.
passed away from a heart attack at Scripps Green Hospital in La Jolla,
California. Wally was an aviation legend and on of the original
Wally was born on March 12, 1923 in Hackensack, New
father was Walter M. Schirra, Sr. and his mother was Florence Leach
Schirra. Wally’s parents were accomplished aviation pioneers in
own right. His father flew combat missions during World War
the war Schirra Sr. and his wife teamed up as barnstormers.
Wally’s mother was a wing walker on the barnstorming
one of the meetings that my family had had with Wally he related to us
a story about his barnstorming mother. He said that she was still
wing walking while she was pregnant with him. Wally said that he
joked with Chuck Yeager that since his mother was a pregnant wing
walker, it meant that Wally got to fly before Yeager did. Wally
piloting his father’s airplane by the time he was 15 years old.
Wally graduated from the United States Naval Academy in
served aboard the battle cruiser USS Alaska during the final months of
World War II. After the war Wally was dispatched to the Naval Air
Station in Pensacola, Florida. There he trained as a pilot and was
assigned to a carrier fighter squadron.
During the Korean War, Wally was loaned to the Air Force
dispatched to South Korea. Between 1951 and 1952, Wally flew 90
missions. The bulk of those missions were conducted in
received credit for downing one Mig-15 and damaging two others. He
received the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with an Oak
After the Korean War, Wally served as a test pilot at
Station China Lake in California. He was involved with the testing
the sidewinder missile. Later he was a test pilot in the program
evaluate the F-4 Phantom fighter for use in the United States Navy.
On April 9, 1959 at a press conference in Washington,
announced as one of the original seven NASA astronauts. This group
would become known as the Mercury 7.
Wally became the 5th American to fly in
space. He was
launched in the Sigma 7 Mercury spacecraft on October 3, 1962. His
mission lasted for 9 hours, 13 minutes, and 11 seconds. He orbited
Earth for six revolutions.
Wally served on the backup crew for the first manned
Gemini III. Wally was a consummate practical joker. He knew
Grissom’s dislike of space food that he and John Young were supposed to
test on Gemini III. Wally had Astronaut Young smuggle a corned beef
sandwich from Wolfie’s deli in Cocoa Beach on board the flight to give
to Grissom. This humorous incident created quite a flap in
who did not quite appreciate humor in the fledgling space program.
Wally’s second space flight began on December 15th,
with launch of Gemini VI-A. On that mission Wally was the
Tom Stafford was the pilot. They accomplished the first rendezvous
space. Their rendezvous target was the Gemini VII spacecraft being
flown by Frank Borman and James Lovell.
The first manned Apollo mission to fly was Apollo
7. This mission
was commanded by Wally and was launched on a Saturn 1-B on October 11th,
1968. This was Wally’s third flight and made him the first man to
in space three times. His crew mates on this mission were Donn
and Walt Cunningham. The Apollo 7 crew received an Emmy for their
television broadcasts from space.
The Apollo 7 mission was Wally’s last space
mission. With his flight
in the Apollo spacecraft, Wally became the only astronaut to fly in all
of the United States first three types of spacecraft, Mercury, Gemini,
Wally was without a doubt my favorite astronaut as I was
and following NASA’s space missions. I was thrilled when I was
able to meet him in 1991 at the 30th Anniversary or Alan
Shepard’s Mercury flight. Over the next several years, I would
opportunities for more meetings with Wally.
He gave my family and me a private tour of the San Diego
Museum in 2004. In 2005, my family and I had a private dinner with
Wally and his wife Jo at the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego,
California. During these meetings I found that Wally’s humor and
exceeded my wildest expectations. I miss Wally. To me he will
remain a hero.