Since today is the 40th anniversary of the splashdown and recovery of Apollo 11 in the Pacific Ocean, I am thrilled to have a guest post by Bob Fish, author of the book Hornet Plus Three: The Story of the Apollo 11 Recovery. I enjoyed this book very much.
Bob is a Trustee and the Apollo curator for the USS Hornet Museum, which is located in Alameda, CA. The Hornet recovered both 11 and Apollo 12 in 1969. The USS Hornet Museum includes a number of very unique artifacts - Apollo 14 Mobile Quarantine Facility, flown Apollo command module (Block-1 unmanned), Biological Isolation Garment, SH3D Seaking helicopter.
The public is generally aware of President Richard Nixon's activities during the Apollo 11 recovery process only during the widely-televised "welcome home" ceremony for the three astronauts. The reality is different...
Here's Bob’s account of what happened:
On July 23, the President and his party (which included Secretary of State William Rogers, National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, Apollo 8 astronaut Colonel Frank Borman, White House Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman, White House Press Secretary Ron Ziegler, and two others) flew from Honolulu to Johnston Island aboard Air Force One. There, the entourage transferred to two HMX-1 squadron helicopters and were ferried a couple hundred miles south to the USS Arlington, a Navy major communications relay ship. The presidential helicopters landed on the ship's antenna deck at 5:30pm (ship time) and shortly thereafter, President Nixon spoke to an assemblage of crewmen. He later toured the ship, chatted with many sailors, and had a light dinner before turning in for the night. Photo: President Nixon's arrival onboard the USS Arlington as he walks with CO Captain Hugh Murphree.
The group arose early the next morning and flew over to the USS Hornet by HMX-1 helicopter, arriving less than an hour before Columbia splashed down. He watched the recovery operation from the ship's island (superstructure) before descending into hangar bay 2 for the welcome home remarks. Just minutes after that televised ceremony, watched by 500 million people, President Nixon and his group departed the ship and flew back to Johnston Island. They boarded Air Force One and began the next leg of their worldwide tour. All in all, Nixon had been in the recovery area for about 18 hours with just the three most historically-eventful ones on the USS Hornet.
President Nixon was in very high spirits the entire time. During his stay on the Arlington, he spent the night in the Commanding Officer's stateroom. After the group had left the morning of the splashdown, Captain Hugh Murphree walked into his cabin and found a handwritten note from the president, scrawled across the "plan of the day". Click image to enlarge.
On the Hornet, the President was clapping people on the back, swapping jokes with the sailors, etc. It was not just about "politics" though he was keenly aware this amazing technological and scientific achievement placed the US in a position over the Soviets for world leadership. As a former naval officer, he really enjoyed being on Navy ships again. And, he was in the middle of the Pacific, away from most of the press, all the protestors, the spin-doctors of DC etc.
Thanks Bob for sharing the story and images on such an important anniversary.