Cassi Creek: On this date in 1969 Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Or did it?
I recall very clearly sitting in a hooch in Dau Tieng RVN, cleaning my weapon, hoping to find a shower with some water remaining in the overhead tank, drinking Christian Brothers altar wine – unconsecrated – considering the disparity between duty inside the base camp and that beyond the wire, when someone passed the word to turn on the AFVN TV broadcast.
There in all its grainy black and white wonder was the broadcast from the moon. We’d done it; put a man on the moon. Two, in fact.
I was astounded. I’d missed the announcement of the launch. When it took place, I had no access to AFVN radio or television. “Stars and Stripes,” the official U.S. military newspaper did not deliver at my location. Our PRC-25 radio was used very sparingly – batteries were heavy and not particularly long-lived - to monitor the tactical push and to respond to sitrep requests and orders in the barely whispered range of audibility, or by breaking squelch.
Instantly, weapons cleaning and gear maintenance was forgotten. The desire for a shower and clean jungle fatigues vanished. There was suddenly no interest in the availability of food other than C-rations or LRRP rations. The wine remained in focus as we toasted the astronauts and the NASA people.
Then, the feed from the moon was over and we returned to the much more locally important task of making sure we had working gear and weapons for our next trip beyond the wire. As amazing as the lunar landing was, it was of no consequence when performing those tasks that might mean the difference between life and death for a soldier. We talked about it as we worked. Everyone was excited about it.
No one thought that the landing or the entire trip out and back, might be a fake. We were living in the Michelin plantation, within rocket range of the Cambodian border, wearing the same clothes for a week or longer, subsisting on combat rations and drinking bad water. But we believed that the NASA scientists had the expertise and that the U.S. had the technical power and the internal desire to travel to the moon. We’d grown up on Disney’s animations as explained by Willy Ley and Werner von Braun just as much as we had John Wayne and Steve McQueen.
Like others, I hold some dates in my mind as world changing. The date that JFK was assassinated, VE Day, VJ Day, The end of the VietNam war, and others that have either socio-historical or great personal import.
But I always get the Apollo 11 landing wrong. Where and when I was, it took place on the 21st of July. There’s this thing called the International Date Line.
By the way, in case you might wonder, there was no remaining water in the showers that day.