News: 'Legends of Aerospace' arrive at RAF Mildenhall
Story by Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace
RAF MILDENHALL, England -- The Apollo 11 commander landed at RAF Mildenhall's Galaxy Club, March 11, to share stories about America's greatest achievements in aerospace.
Accompanying Neil Armstrong on the "Legends of Aerospace: The Impossible Is Possible" tour were: Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell, the last astronaut to walk on the moon Gene Cernan, SR-71 chief test pilot Bob Gilliland, last Air Force pilot ace Steve Ritchie, and former "Good Morning America" host David Hartman.
It's been 14,844 long days since July 20, 1969, when Armstrong egressed the Eagle and forever made history as the first human being to walk on the moon. Still, Mr. Armstrong's first comments regarded another subject all together.
After receiving a standing ovation and roar of applause from the more than 1,000 people who packed in to see the icons of aerospace, Armstrong addressed the Boy Scouts in attendance by asking them what the scout motto was.
They answered with a thundering, "Be prepared."
"That was our motto on Apollo 11, too," said Armstrong. "40,000 Americans spent a decade of their lives allowing us to make the Apollo 11 mission happen. We could not let them down."
The Apollo 11 success made President John F. Kennedy's dream of reaching the moon by the end of the 1960s a reality. Armstrong has dreams of his own for the future of space exploration.
"My dream is that humans can travel freely and safely throughout the solar system and that human character improves to the point that we can eliminate armed conflict," he said during an interview.
The Armed Forces Entertainment Program in conjunction with Morale Entertainment event featured more than just legendary aviators on stage telling their stories. The program gave a great deal of insight into parts of the icons' personalities that are rarely seen in public.
For instance, in much of the past five decades, Armstrong has been more reserved than other members of the Apollo 11 crew, who are often seen on TV and featured in stories. This would lead some to believe he could possibly be shy.
However, up on stage, Armstrong and Cernan joked with one another in a fashion that had the whole crowd rumbling.
"It was Apollo 8 that put a giant white line in space for Neil to follow," said Cernan, explaining that without the efforts of Lovell's Apollo 8 crew, Armstrong would have never stepped foot on the moon.
Laughing, Armstrong retorted, "Whoever painted it doesn't matter, I followed it and got there."
In the midst of the comedy, fellow astronaut and Apollo 13 commander apologized that Tom Hanks couldn't be present, and regretted that the audience would have to just be satisfied with the real thing.
Another rumble arose in the crowd.
After his joke, Lovell interjected serious advice for the service members in attendance.
"The Apollo 13 mission was a classic case of crisis management, which is very important to the military today," Lovell said. "You have to think outside the box to solve problems you never thought you'd have to deal with."
Reeling back from the moon and closer to home, Retired Brig. Gen. Ritchie told stories of his encounters during the Vietnam War.
Being the only U.S. Air Force pilot ace in that war permanently marked the general in the history books.
Even closer to home than Asia was Blackbird test pilot Gilliland, who had a very specific connection to the United Kingdom.
"My experiences are particularly significant here because RAF Mildenhall was once home to the Blackbird," said Gilliland.
The SR-71s arrival to England was a record breaking event in itself.
"The Blackbird made its first visit to RAF Mildenhall September 1974, when it made the 3,479-mile trip in only one hour and 55 minutes," said Mark Howell, 100th Air Refueling Wing historian. "To achieve this new record the SR-71 had to fly more than three times the speed of sound."
SR-71 reconnaissance operations at RAF Mildenhall lasted from April 1976 to 1990. The program was officially terminated in 1989.
Admitting that sacrifices he made for America were monumental, Gilliland has similar expectations for Airmen serving today.
"Continue to take risks and step into frontiers not yet explored," he said, explaining how Airmen today are on the cutting edge of technology.
Gilliland expressed the sincere gratitude he has for all service members and how grateful he is for continued service.
It's putting one's life on the line for a greater good that makes a service member's mission noble, he said. "If there [wasn't] a risk in being killed, it isn't worth doing it."