Dear Editor,
U.S. Places First Men on the MOON. Those of us old enough to remember this probably also remember exactly where we were as we watched history unfold on television.
I was fortunate in that I had a fairly different perspective. While in the Army, I served as Exec. Officer for US Army Cape Kennedy Outport (USACKO) from June, 1968 to March, 1969. We ran the military (Cape Kennedy) side of Port Canaveral. From our vantage point of loading or off-loading ships, we were “up close and personal” with many rocket and missile launchings - including the Apollo series. Apollo was a granddaddy of all rockets. When it ignited, we were close enough that the pulsations would literally make our ribs vibrate in the same rhythm (as the pulsations) and our hearts would beat wildly. It was like a drug made from noise and concussion.
Fast-forward to July 20, 1969, and I am stationed in Busan, S. Korea. Korea is almost exactly 12 hours ahead of Central Time, so while those of you in the U.S. were watching during the night, we were watching this historic event during the day – 12 hours ahead of you.
We’d assembled, about a dozen of us, in a Quonset hut dripping with humidity and the always present faint odor of sewer – or not-too-distant rice paddies. We had a small b&w TV tuned to the only Korean TV station for a picture, while we listened to the audio over Armed Forces Korean Network. We” were a mixture of Non-Coms, Korean civilian employees (DAKS) and myself.
Among our group was Mr. Chu, my #1 Korean employee. He was a short, always smiling, stout man who had been a lieutenant in the Korean Army during the Korean Conflict. As Neil Armstrong placed his foot on the lunar surface, Mr. Chu proposed a toast, which I will never forget. “We Koreans look at the moon and paint pretty pictures and write pretty words. Russians look at the moon and they brag, brag, brag. But you Americans, you are really something. You look at the moon - and you go there.”
Maybe you can get a sense of the feelings I had, we all shared, at that moment. America. We’d helped save the world in WWII. We were the first (and the most) to help S. Korea during the Korean Conflict and we were maintaining our promise to never desert them. There is a large UN cemetery in Busan, and most of those buried there are Americans.
Fifty years have now come and gone since that historic day. I will never forget the Apollo launches live from the Cape, Apollo 11 and Neil and Buzz walking on the moon. But, I will also never forget Mr. Chu and his spontaneous toast on that memorable day, July 20, 1969. God Bless America. And God Bless Mr. Chu, wherever you may be.
Larry E. Grabb