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Shepard Had the Right Stuff

By Jan Beedle

Seeing so much on the news lately about the 40th anniversary of the Apollo Moon Landing takes me back to earlier days, when my Thomas family was coming back from a rewarding auto trip to Ft. Lauderdale and St. Petersburg, Florida.

The Nash Rambler Cross Country Wagon proved to be a comfortable travel vehicle for our family of four. We could lay the back seat flat and take turns relaxing on the inflated air mattress. On May 5, 1961, we left St. Pete while still dark to head for Ohio. Dad pulled to the side of the road, while we gazed in amazement at the lighted skyscraper slowly rise in the darkness. It was flat toward the east and not much over there that we knew about. Stranger yet, a blast of orange glowed as its tail. We had no idea what we were watching – perhaps a UFO?

Tests and experimentation of exploring outer space were secretive in the 1950s. Television and the media were not as involved with such exploits, as we know them to be today. We knew about the atom bomb explosions in Nevada, but the media was kept in the dark concerning most accomplishments, until afterwards.

By the time we stopped at Macon, Georgia, for the night, the event became obvious – we were not seeing things. The front page of the local paper spread the word. Alan Shepard was the first American in space.

Inducted into the Washington D.C. Academy of Achievement in 1981, Rear Admiral Shepard said, “I must admit, maybe I am a piece of history after all.” I know I’ll never forget that historical day.

Unlike Ohioans Neil Armstrong and John Glenn, Alan Shepard was born in East Derry, New Hampshire and raised on the family farm. At the age of ten, he pedaled ten miles to the nearest airport on Saturday mornings. He made himself handy by cleaning the planes and performing odd jobs. Alan tried to learn all he could about the planes. He worshipped Charles Lindbergh and built model planes until his early teens. His father, being retired military, lived long enough to see his son travel to the moon and back. He was only one of twelve to walk on the moon, which he claimed was starkly desolate.

Paralleling his life with the area and my life – Alan received an Honorary Doctorate of Science in 1971 from Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. This date chronicled the birth of my youngest daughter and Miami was a school I earlier attended.

On July 21, 1998, Alan died from Leukemia at the age of seventy-four. This week recalls the anniversary of Shepard’s death. Alan, becoming a successful businessman, retired as a Rear Admiral from NASA on August 1, 1974.

More to come on Alan Shepard and his contribution to the space program...

NOTE: The clear pictures are part of my personal collection, sent to me by Hubby’s cousin, who worked for Cape Canaveral (later – Cape Kennedy) at one time and knew most of the astronauts.

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