Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Space Race.

Memories can be fuzzy things.  Especially, when the event happened so long ago.  There are those certain things that are as clear as the day they happened.  I have tracked my early memories based on the events of history.  One of these early memories took place when I was 4 years old.

It is significant because I shared that moment with my Dad. His excitement was a key to the memory..the event added to it.  A man, Alan B. Shepard, was about to be launched into space.  I remember the blurry image on a small black and white T.V.  I was bitten by the space bug.

I didn't just watch it on television, I played with it in the backyard.  My Dad helped me launch our first rocket.  It was a baking soda and vinegar rocket. I marveled as it buzzed to untold heights.  In fact, it probably only flew 20 feet, but it was amazing.

I remember listening to the beeps and tweets of passing satellites on a radio my Dad had built. I had no idea what it was saying, I just knew it was talking to me from space.  I watched every flight of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions.  I hung on every update, and imagined myself up there with them.

My Dad had a Ford Ltd Station Wagon. The one with the flip up seat in the back.  I would climb into that seat and imagine I was docking to the Lunar Excursion Module, as my Dad hooked up the old Cox tent camper.

I drank Tang because that is what Astronauts drank. I ate those disgusting breakfast sticks, because that is what Astronauts ate.

When I got older my Dad, Brother, and I would build better models using solid fuel engines.  These rockets would take off quickly and fly as high as a few thousand feet.  We worked at making our recovery systems better by cutting holes in the parachutes. We built our own launch pads with plywood, wire coat hangers, and 6 volt flashlight batteries. Each of us would build our own rockets then fire them as a family.

There were four rockets that I was most proud of.  The first was my attempt at multi stage rockets...the Black Widow was a two stage rocket that could reach 2000 feet.  It took me several attempts to get the second stage to light correctly...when it finally did it was attacked by a crow and destroyed during the recovery stage.

The second was a glider recovered rocket.  I painted it a super ugly dark blue.  During its maiden flight it disintegrated shortly after clearing the launch pad...too much engine...not enough rocket was to blame.  After some technical adjustments it flew well, sadly during recovery it landed high in an elm tree.  The tree, with the help of the wind destroyed it beyond recognition.

The third was the Eggscrambler. It had a clear payload area that could take and egg or other small creatures for a flight.  Its also introduced multiple engines in a single stage.  The trick was getting all three engines to fire at the same time.  We tried connecting them in parallel and in series circuits...upping the power to a 12 volt car battery.  Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.  As you might imagine we were happy when it worked, often amazed at the outcome when it didn't.

The fourth was the greatest challenge of all.  The Saturn V. This was a three foot tall, multi-engine, multi-stage rocket.  The First Stage consisted of 5 engines and the second stage consisted of 3 engines.  The rocket was a very detailed model, and because it was so heavy would only reach just a few hundred feet.

It took my Dad, Brother, and I weeks to complete the model.  Many of our early launch attempts were complete failures with only 1 or 2 of the engines lighting. We had tried launching that rocket so many times, that my brother and I never expected it to fly.

One day my Dad said he had an idea to get it off the ground.  Unfortunately, I had a very bad cold and my Mom would not allow me outside.  So I watched as my Dad set the rocket up in the field across the road.  We always followed the same launch procedure.

10.  Check to see that there are no low flying aircraft in the area.
9. Check the to insure that all batteries are connected and working.
8. Check the wind to make sure you are not down range of the rocket when it clears the guide wire.
7. Check for people down range.
6. Check for birds
5. Check again for aircraft.
2. Energize the batteries.
1. Ignite the engines.

The engines lit..all of them..and the white smoke they generated quickly became a huge cloud.  The rocket began to move!

At first it was very slow..too slow from what I could tell.  It cleared the guide wire and hovered for a moment..then...the second stage ignited..just a bit early. The shock of the second stage igniting blew the the recovery system out and the parachutes deployed.

For the next few seconds my Dad and that rocket were locked in a death dance.  It chasing him..and in the confusion...him chasing it. When it was all done, the second stage had suffered severe damage.  The rocket sat as a nice looking charred model for a few months, before being relegated to the bone yard.

When I was about 12 or so we took the trip of a lifetime..for me anyway.  My uncle was stationed at MacDill  Air Force Base...and we were going to take a trip to visit him. Along the way we visited my other Uncle who worked at Warner Robbins Air Force Base in Georgia.  That is where I saw my first C-130.  An aircraft I would become familiar with in another post.

The trip to Florida would not be wasted..we saw St. Augustine, Daytona, and my nirvana...Kennedy Space Center.  I know I must have walked around with my mouth agape...seeing the Saturn V transporter, the building where everything was put together, the history, and the sadness of the pad in which Grissom, White, and Chaffe died. We would later visit Disney Land, but I barely remember that.  Kennedy Space could you beat that?

I have followed every space mission since I was a child...As an Adult stationed at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico I was fascinated by the stories that a physicist there told me about his contribution to space flight.  Later, after receiving my degree in computers, one of my first customers was a classmate of the Rocket Boys in West Virginia.  He had to force me to take his money.  His stories were always fascinating.

The space program has contributed untold advancements in engineering, medicine, energy, and management.  I am very saddened at the possible loss of this marvelous addition to the education of America. I am hopeful that this is but a brief pause. Our space program is a National Treasure that must be preserved.

I would like to say thanks to Space Coast Conservative[dot]com for inspiring me to tell this story.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Teufel Hunden

Teufel Hunden

            With Veteran’s Day fast approaching I have always felt that something should be said for those that came before us.  In our modern world we often get bogged down with the politics of war and fail to remember the sacrifice, dedication, and patriotism expressed by those who go to war on our behalf.  The right and wrong of a war can be argued.  But the shear bravery, audacity, creativity, and selflessness of those who fight reflects honor on our country, and sends a message to our foes.  Don’t Tread on us.

          This story is the story of the United States Marine Corps.

            The U.S. 2nd and 3rd Divisions had been dispatched at the request of the French, by General John “Black Jack” Pershing to defend the area around the city of Chateau-Thierry. The divisions fell under command of the French XXI Corps.  This meant that although the American divisions were part of the American Expeditionary Force, they would receive and follow the orders of the French.

            The need for these units was based on a thrust by the German Army Group Crown Prince toward Paris.  The German Army Group had dispatched the 237th Division, 10thDivision and later reinforcements from the 197th, 87th, and 28th Divisions to take and occupy the Chateau-Thierry area.

On the first of June 1918, Marine Captain Lloyd Williams began to dig in along with the rest of second division near the town of Lucy-le-Bocage.  When advised to withdraw he said, “Retreat Hell, we just got here!”   The whole move had been a mess, given the emergency of moving a whole division to counter the German thrust.  However, the Marines quickly turned disorder into order.  Soon they were demonstrating to the Germans the damage American marksmanship can provide. 

On the 2nd and 3rd of June the German 237th Division Occupied Belleau Wood.

On the 4th the Germans launch an attack at a place called Les Mares Farm.  The 2ndBattalion, 5th Marines defend the farm.  The Germans ran head long into well-prepared positions.  Marine machinegun, and artillery tear into the assault and turn it back.  This is the closest the Germans will ever get to Paris, just 50 miles away.

On the 5th the French commander orders the 2nd Division to recapture Belleau Wood.  The 4th Marine Brigade is tasked to recapture the wood.  According to the French the Germans only occupy a small corner of the wood.

On the 6th of June the Marines launch their attacks.  The first attack comes at 0500 to capture hill 142.  With this hill the Marines can support the main attack on the wood. Despite some tense moments this attack is successful.

At 1700 hours the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments frontally assault the wood.  To get there they must cross a wheat field.  The wheat field is well covered by German machineguns.  Gunnery Sgt Dan Daly yells, “come on you son of a bitches, you want to live forever?”  The attack is a near disaster.

The 3rd Battalion 5th Marines are decimated and the 3rd Battalion 6th Marines barely make it into the woods.  In addition to the attack on the wood, the 4th Brigade was ordered to take a railroad station just outside of the town of Bouresches.  The station is heavily defended and the attack fails.  The action on this day results in the most casualties suffered by the Marines in a single day, 1087 men.

From the 7th to the 15th of June the Marines engage in the back and forth of trench warfare.  They endure bombardment and gas attacks.

On The 16th of June the 3rd Divisions Army units relive the Marines.

On the 22nd of June the Marines reenter the battle relieving the Army units.  The French continue to order the woods be taken.

On the 23rd of June the Marines launch an assault that makes very little headway, but results in terrible casualties. Two hundred ambulances are needed to remove the wounded.

On the 25th of June the French finally bring in enough guns to reduce the woods to firewood.  After a 14-hour bombardment the Marines capture the wood.

On the 26th of June Major Maurice Shearer sends the signal “Woods now entirely-U.S. Marine Corps.”

Legend has it that a German dispatch to headquarters described the newly arrived American forces as fighting like “Tuefel Hunden” or “Hounds from Hell.”  This is the origin of the term “Devil Dogs”, a common term of endearment and honor for the Marines.

The result of the action at Belleau Wood demonstrated to the Germans that the Americans were here to fight.  The overall action resulted in the German advance being stopped.

Total casualties 9,777

Medal of Honor awards: Gunnery Sgt E.A. Janson, Lt. JG. Weedon Osborne (a street in Bouresches is named for him), Lt. Orlando Perry, and Gunnery Sgt. F. Stockham.

Excerpt of a Citation from the French Government.

During these operations [of early June], thanks to the brilliant courage, vigour, dash, and tenacity of its men, who refused to be disheartened by fatigue or losses; thanks to the activity and energy of the officers, and thanks to the personal action of Brig. Gen. Harbord, the efforts of the brigade were crowned with success, realizing after twelve days of incessant struggle an important advance over the most difficult of terrain and the capture of two support points of the highest importance, Bouresches village and the fortified wood of Belleau.”

In French, Belleau Wood is Bois de Belleau.  At the end of the battle the French renamed it to “Bois de la Brigade de Marine.”

Salute to the “Devil Dogs.”