Apollo 8, Fifty Years Later

December, 2018

Lincoln -- It's nice to see so much attention being given to the 50th anniversary of Apollo 8, the first circumnavigation of the moon. Too bad celebration of it at the National Archives is curtailed because of a government shutdown. Times change, and lately not for the better. The success of Apollo 8 provided a moment of great pride and hope in America. It was also a key Cold War victory over the Soviet Union.

I was part of the Apollo 8 recovery effort, aboard USS Arlington (AGMR-2). We and USS Yorktown (CVS-10) left Pearl Harbor for the target zone before Christmas, 1968, and waited there for the splashdown on December 27th. Several of my shipmates were topside at dawn and saw the capsule descend. I was below decks, being the communications watch officer connecting Yorktown circuits through Arlington to the rest of the world. Arlington was a major communications relay ship, featuring huge sending and receiving antennas everywhere.

Once aboard Yorktown, astronauts Frank Borman, William Anders, and James Lovell stepped out onto a starboard sponson and gave the Arlington crew a wave. I was off watch by that time and waved back, along with hundreds of others. What a moment; what a relief that they were back safely, and that all communication circuits worked for the splashdown.

Looking back, it's nothing short of remarkable what our country achieved, albeit at great risk because so many of the rocket and computer systems of the time were unreliable. What courage, what selfless heroism from the Apollo 8 astronauts.