History & Culture

Apollo 7, America, and Today

apollo

Mid-October, 54 years ago, something spectacular happened. Many Americans today struggle for context. Here it is. Today, we see ourselves as divided, uneasy, threatened, queasy, watching society fracture and seethe – but 1968 was true hell, until Apollo 7 launched.

You may say, “What, a launch changed everything?” Yes, here is why. If you can imagine, America was locked in what seemed like an intractable war for starters, Vietnam.

No one imagined a future memorial – half mile from me – commemorating 40,000 dead men. Men who believed in America, drafted, volunteered, unsupported by the public, vilified for stepping up, degraded on return, never fully understood, or appreciated, deserving far more than they got.

The Tet offensive was January 1968 through September, massive push to secure victory, like chasing mercury along the edge of a tub, nailing Jell-O to a wall, catching the uncatchable.

Riots hit Washington DC. How bad? Colin Powell told me busses surrounded the White House – to prevent assault. Through all of this there was a glimmer, the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

Darkness was gathering, as it does, as it did in the mid-1800s, and again mid-1900s. A civil rights leader who pleaded for the American Dream. He was imperfect but courageous, who talked of peace not violence, unity, and not having “enemies of the State,” was assassinated.

The event was lightning to a fence, and circled the nation in pain, creating fissures. What followed? That night, mid-presidential election, Bobby Kennedy stood on a pick-up flatbed and told Americans – Black in particular – hold your head high, get beyond this with love and hope, look forward.

“What, love and hope, who are you kidding?” He was not kidding. Listen to his speech, it will stop you. Like his older brothers, one dead in WWII, the other five years earlier, or Theodore Roosevelt, Abe Lincoln, and countless founders before him, people like Reagan after him – he believed.

So, things were dark. Americans shuddered. That was April, then came June. Bobby Kennedy, who was, for his faults, an idealist, and was trying to square a Harvard education, Catholic upbringing, his time as a war correspondent, fatherhood, brotherhood, and America’s tumult…ran for President – and was himself gunned down. As a Reagan Republican, let me be clear: He was about hope.

Darkness went darker. We think – and we are right – that the “lunatic fringe” on all sides is making headway against commonsense, those who believe in tradition, law, family, community, limited government, history, science, math, and faith. But in those days – the 1960s – were darker.

Making things worse, America was locked in an existential battle with the Soviet Union, a “space race” to the moon, surrogate for nuclear war, barely over the Cuban Missile Crisis, locked with the Soviets and Chinese in Vietnam, determined to defend democracy. Things were tough.

The “worse” was this: In February 1967, after John Kennedy declared America bound for the moon in 1961, and his assassination in 1963 – The“space race” full throttle, it nearly collapsed, a catastrophe. America’s Apollo 1 crew died – in the launch pad fire.

Now, think with me on this. That is the definition of darkness, America determined to win, then while facing three assassinations, battlefield calamity, tens of thousands dead in Vietnam, Soviets ascendant, national riots, and the symbol of our strength, Apollo, dead on the launch pad.

Suddenly, with the kind of resolve that turned everything at Trenton, and Yorktown for Washington, Gettysburg and Vicksburg for Lincoln, Normandy, Anzio, Bastogne, Iwo and Okinawa in WWII, America said “Hell no, this is not the end, this is just the beginning.”

That was Apollo 7, first manned Apollo attempt after Apollo 1, which killed three of America’s best. The Apollo 7 crew, Walt Cunningham, Wally Shira, and Don Eisele never doubted. They had to succeed, prevail, and get into space, prove Apollo’s capsule, rocket, and reentry worked. If they did not succeed, confidence in the program, truthfully in “who we were” would have foundered.

Hours and hours have I talked with Walt, a decorated US Marine, patriot’s patriot, determined and undeterred, calm, confident, and capable, sure of America as anyone gets. Was he fearful? No, the mission was for America, and ultimately “all Mankind.” He had crossed that bridge.

Was he aware of its importance? Of course, he sat on the review board, flew in Korea, knew the Soviet threat, and knew above all else how incredibly capable Americans were – the thinkers, planners, designers, engineers, builders, testers, everyone who was “all-in” – just as he was.

So, what happened? In an incredible argument for breaking inertia, turning the dial, changing everything in a moment, the way an attitude, resolve, heroes and miracles change everything, that Apollo 7 crew climbed aboard that Saturn candle, and America lit the fuse.

The mission, launched this month 54 years ago, was not just complete, pioneering, and a first that proved all seconds and thirds, and 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, and 17th missions possible. It was both first, and literally perfect – picture perfect during ten days, a total success.

What flowed from that success? Take a guess. Renewed confidence in ourselves, our ability to put political differences, tragedies, distractions, and recriminations aside. We remembered who we were, we Americans, how powerful goodness is for unity. We are unstoppable.

In a few short years, political violence ebbed, riots done, Vietnam over, and Americans did as we swore, Democrats and Republicans, engineers and astronauts – walked on the moon. We did that on July 20, 1969, credit to the crew of Apollo 7, who flew that perfect mission, tested everything.

So, when you think about where we are, what this incredible nation – like no other in human history – has done, remember this day and this month. Remember this incredible nation, close as any to heaven, and Apollo 7.  Remember Walt, Wally, and Don – Walt, a confident hero like no other, and a brother.

Then, as they did, look forward – not backward. Look ahead not into the dark. Look at the possible, not events over which we have no control. Extoll – virtues of America. Dare to believe, as they did. We are not done, none of us. We are in the fight, Artemis, Space X, America. The mindset of one generation, leader, crew, or American – can turn the dial. It is time again.


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Kim
3 months ago

Sometimes it takes a revolution; sometimes it takes an election. But those elections, of course, must be honest for this country to move forward for the next 2 or 4 or 6 years without the kind of rancor we’ve been seeing for the past several years. If those elections don’t go our way, there will be more elections in the future that will.

We’re a reasonable nation. What we’ve been experiencing these past 19 months is an experiment gone awry, and everyone feels the consequences. I don’t think America wants the kind of governance the progressive liberals are inflicting upon us, and I do think there will be a sea-change next month and in 2024. Reason, common sense, and time-tested American ideals will prevail…especially after seeing how quickly the whole system can spiral downward.

It is the responsibility of each registered voter to get out there and vote!! And it is the responsibility of those who lead our country to deliver the mandate of the people!! Not all of us will like that, but that’s what we will have voted for.

Painful circumstances such as we’re living through now will guide our next decision in the voting booth. At least we, as Americans, have the privilege of selecting our next round of leaders. Many other nations are not bound to a just and fair system. We’re lucky to be living here, but it is entirely up to us to make sure our way of life–our freedoms–are passed on to the next generation to enjoy as we have. Keep America free and vote as if your life depends on it.

David Millikan
3 months ago

I remember watching every APOLLO mission launch. It was exciting.
We were on our way till Democrats killed APOLLO program.
We have not had a REAL SPACE PROGRAM till PRESIDENT TRUMP.
Now we’re right back to NO SPACE PROGRAM and things are FAR WORSE TODAY in the USA and WORLD than back then thanks to DICTATOR Beijing biden.

19&41
3 months ago

If one looks for it, there has been a brighter future since the Apollo 7 mission. We have had several generations that have only a vague idea of what the draft was or implied for a young man’s life. It was only one grade in high school for me after the draft’s end. Consider the state of the art in medicine in 1968 compared to what we have today, notwithstanding the complaining about “big pharma’s” effect on our lives, aside from helping to prolong our lives to uncommon ages by 1968 standards. There is plenty wrong with many things these days. We rose above them then, and we can do it again. It takes self worth and a sense of purpose.

PaulE
3 months ago

Don’t you find it a bit strange that you have to go back 54 years to find inspiration for a brighter future? To a time when virtually none of the so-called “woke” policies of modern day America, with their infantile ideals, would be tolerated, much less embraced, either willingly or via intimidation, by the vast majority of American citizens? Where socialism was something that hid in the dark fringes of society, because the vast majority of Americans both understood what it was and certainly wouldn’t be openly advocating for transforming our nation into a socialist h*ll hole?

Yes, the United States can still have a brighter future, but ONLY if the American people stand up and demand it and purge the system of those pushing policies that seek to completely undermine all aspects of the republic. All I’m saying is there is a difference between day dreaming about the brighter past that was and hoping it somehow comes back around and actually providing a set of specific steps and actions that will enable people today to achieve that future today. Hope, in and of itself, is not a strategy nor a plan for success. Concrete actions, executed well by the people, are what bring about change. I think we can both agree on that.

anna hubert
3 months ago
Reply to  PaulE

I do not think socialism or communism were hiding on the fringes of society then. In 1945 Patton was not allowed to finish the job he started because a big chunk of Europe was promised to Stalin by saintly FDR, Korea and Vietnam wars were not allowed to be won Dark forces were working full speed ahead .JFK and MLK stood in the way so were eliminated,simple as that no mercy among cut throats I am not a pessimist but realistically speaking we are in the bigger mess than we think Can it be fixed I hope so but it would take iron will and grit and more than two generations

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