Sunday, July 7, 2019

Fifty years from Apollo 11






"My feelings today about the Moon landing? Let's go! We are long, long overdue to return! This President will make it happen. And, just like in 1969, it will be 'Yuge'!"




Coming up in less than two weeks, will be the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. Always a space nut as a kid, I followed the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo flights. I was hooked. I knew that if Apollo 11 was successful (and there was huge doubts that it might not be), it would be Earth shaking history. It would be televised all over the world for many millions to see. But not for me - I was in boot camp, and TV in boot camp was a no-no.

I was also on the Balboa Naval Hospital waiting list to have a hernia repaired. Boots were low priority, as Balboa did quite a bit of battle triage during the Viet Nam War. As luck would have it, around the 10th of July, I received orders to report to Balboa to have my hernia fixed. Going from boot to a Naval Hospital, my status went from lower than gum on the bottom of a shoe, to a human once again. It was a shock to my system. But a good shock.

The day after reporting in at Balboa, the surgeon came to see me (Gasp! A real officer, talking to a boot!). He joked with me that since I was only a boot, he was allowed to make my stitches big, and very uneven. I looked at him closely and then had the guts to ask him a question. "Sir, I see by your name tag your last name is Kemp. You resemble Jack Kemp from the Buffalo Bills. Is there any relation?" He smiled, "Unfortunately. He is my younger brother. I am a Rams fan, so once in a while I have to cheer for the Bills when they are playing." All I could think about was this - Jack Kemp's brother is going to operate on me tomorrow. How cool is that?

After my operation, they kept me at the hospital for two weeks to "recover". It was really to put me in an "X Division", to get some free labor out of me. That was fine - I just did get a free operation from the Navy. But the big bonus was coming. The barracks I was assigned to at the hospital had a TV, and July 20th was rapidly approaching. Yes, even though I had given up all hope of seeing the Moon landing, I was able to witness it, along with hundreds of millions of others, all across the globe.

One of the fellows who was watching the landing with me was an E-6 Marine named Sgt. Butler. I will never forget him. He was a frequent flyer at Balboa - this was his third time there - all for combat injuries. He loved pulling up his shirt to show off his torso. It looked like a map, which had been crumpled up and disfigured. That is where all three of his wounds were. But the Sargent was like the a Timex Watch. He took a licking, but kept on ticking. 

For some reason, Sargent Butler took a shine to me. Maybe it was because I had my operation the same day two Marine boots also had hernia operations. They both passed out when the corpsmen got them up when the operation was over. I did not. That impressed the Sargent. In any event, he tried his best to convince me I made a HUGE error in going in the Navy instead of the Marines. He would look at me, wink and say, "Hell boot. In Viet Nam, hunting season is open 365 days a year. No limit! You are from Minnesota - you should like that!"

Soon, I had orders back to boot. I needed to get that finished it up. I did see the Moon landing, as well as meeting a most fascinating Marine. I never found out what happened to Sargent Butler after I left. I know he was going back to Viet Nam when he got the green light from the medical folks. I sure hope he made it. Even though it has been fifty years, I remember that time just like it was yesterday. 

My feelings today about the Moon landing? Let's go! We are long, long overdue to return! This President will make it happen. And, just like in 1969, it will be "Yuge"!

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