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190715 July 15, 2019


Viewing the Moon Landing from Ft. Benning
Rainer Klauss
LHS ‘64

Since the United States Army was responsible, in a direct way, for my presence and life in America, it seems fitting, in accordance with a cosmic design, that I witnessed the drama of man’s landing on the Moon on July 20, 1969 in an Army barracks in Ft. Benning, Georgia. Four buddies, who I had told of my connection to the epic event, sat with me as we watched television in the quarters of the staff sergeant who had charge of our barracks. Steve was a Vietnam veteran and getting very “short,” which meant he only had a few months left in his active service. We were all close in age and good friends; our slight difference in rank meant nothing. Steve’s car had taken us all over the post and to the bars, strip joints, and restaurants of nearby Columbus.

We sat there late that Sunday night in our boxers, sweating—not because we were anxious about the momentous forthcoming events--but because we were in an oven. Our bunks were on the second floor bay of one of the World War II barracks of the Headquarters Company of the Army Training Center. The big fans that ran throughout the day and night just blew hot air around. At least their droning, a mechanical lullaby, helped settle us into sleep--unless we had guard duty and stood sentinel at the dark motor pool with a heavy but unloaded M-14.

    We tuned into CBS about 10:30, and the coverage of the Moon Walk began about 10:50.Neil Armstrong descended the ladder from the Lunar Module and said: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Walter Cronkite’s narration was instrumental in making sense of the emergence of Armstrong into the abstract black, gray, and white forms that were the reality of live lunar television in those early moments, miraculous but limited.  Cronkite’s ensuing interpretation and summary of the events of the Moon Walk, the unearthly commentaries of Armstrong and Aldrin , and the ghostly but compelling imagery all combined to help stretch our perceptions and imaginations to grasp, as best we could, the uncanny nature of the experience we were seeing. 

    As I watched that night, I thought of my father and wondered what was going through his mind at home. How much pride did he take in the magnificent achievement and his part in it? Unfortunately, I’m not sure we ever got a chance to talk about it. I don’t remember any phone conversation after the event. The lone phone booth near the barracks got a lot of business, and I can’t recall if I congratulated him with a letter either. I hope I responded with filial acclamation at some point.  He had earned the right to view the event as the culmination of an extraordinary working life and to have his sons recognize that.

During my last year at Auburn in 1968, I knew that my draft deferment would figuratively go up in smoke as soon as I graduated. With a cobbled-together philosophy of “who knows what’s in store” and “be prepared,” I decided to take a typing course Spring quarter, the last before graduation.  Adding one more skill to what I considered a meager toolkit seemed a proactive way to deal with the alarming future facing me. I didn’t think my English degree, with minors in History and German, was going to be much help. I made a “C” in the course because I had no ambition to be a fast typist; I just wanted to be proficient.

    I was sworn in to the United States Army on the 3rd of October, 1968 in Montgomery, Alabama.   US 5384827 on my dog tags identifies me as a draftee. Late that afternoon my new cohort and I were bussed to the Reception Center at the Harmony Church training area at Ft. Benning. The phrase “Reception Center” can be construed as a friendly, welcoming place. In this case, it wasn’t. We were in the grip of those who took charge of our profound transformation from civilians into soldiers. The next morning, to the demeaning commentary of the barbers, our hair was clipped off; in the adjacent building we stripped to our shorts and wrapped our civilian clothes for shipment home. Then, as we moved along the line, a full-dress uniform with shoes, three sets of fatigues, headgear, underwear, and two pairs of boots were loaded onto our arms. We dressed ourselves in one set of fatigues, hat and boots; the rest of the gear was stuffed into our duffle bag for transport to our temporary barracks. After lunch, we stood in line for hours to receive shots, have our teeth checked, and undergo cursory physical exams. That evening some of us pulled KP, all of us got little sleep.  

    On the second morning at the Reception Center, a day colder than usual for early October in central Georgia, we reported for our intelligence and aptitude assessments.   The results would be included in our DA Form 20, the Enlisted Qualification Record, a document that was maintained at the Personnel section wherever we were stationed. I chose to take the typing test. I hadn’t been near a typewriter since graduation, so I was very rusty, nervous, and my fingers were not very nimble because of the cold.  I fumbled out 32 words per minute on the test—a sorry score, but it certified me as a bona fide typist. And I was classified as a speaker of German, solely on my say-so. 

    Later that afternoon we marched to our training barracks. We were officially C-8-2. Charlie Company, 8th Battalion, 2nd Brigade. I doubt if any of us gave much thought to the other companies that were undergoing their own rough transformations nearby.  At Harmony Church, the world shrank to our barracks, the mess hall, and the training areas. Verbal abuse, physical harassment, and rigid discipline designed to break us down and get us used to the Army way of life filled our days and nights.

    Near the end of the intense psychological and physical rigors of Basic Training, I received orders for Advanced Infantry Training at Ft. McClellan in Anniston, Alabama. I was not surprised. In addition to qualifying with the M-14, I had received further training with the M-16. Once that notation was entered on my record, my name dropped into the hopper for Ft. McClellan. My martial skills would be augmented and honed there. I knew I was on the greased path for Vietnam. (I wonder if anyone ever noticed that I was an ambidextrous rifleman. I was just as deadly shooting with my left as with my right—a quirky talent acquired in childhood that found its ultimate expression on the firing range at Ft. Benning).

    A few days before the graduation ceremony, after which everyone would be sent on to their next duty stations, I was told that I was going to be a “holdover,” that I wouldn’t be heading for Ft. McClellan right away. I never knew why I was assigned that status, but I was overjoyed to not be on the Advanced Infantry Training Express. While almost everyone else was parading with pomp and circumstance and celebrating the end of Basic Training, the holdovers had KP duty. I took the opportunity to sneak and wolf down several pieces of graduation cake. 

    In limbo for a few days, we hold-overs lounged around our almost-deserted barracks, getting as much sleep as possible, but soon the Army reached out to grab us again. We were shuttled over to our new temporary home, the hold-over barracks at the Army Training Center Headquarters.  Each morning we climbed into trucks and were hauled all over the post, dropped off to help with emergency KP and other character-building activities.

    The Army bureaucracy seemed to be grinding away at my case, figuring out what to do with me, but in actuality the initial workings of the higher cosmic design were unfolding. One morning the duty truck stopped at the Headquarters building complex. A sergeant walked up to the truck and asked: “Does anybody here know how to type?” I threw up my hand, even though volunteering for anything in the Army is considered a sign of insanity. 

    “Okay, Private, jump down and follow me,” the sergeant said. We walked down the sidewalk to the Public Information Office, and he introduced me to the officer in charge, a first lieutenant. “This guy’s here to sweep and clean up, sir.”

    Even then I found it funny, though somewhat deflating, that they wanted somebody with typing skills for their janitor. I seemed to be following in the august traditions of Sad Sack or Beetle Bailey. I got to work with my broom. It beat the hell out of KP.

    After a while, the Public Information Officer and I started talking. He asked me where I was from. “Huntsville, Alabama, sir. I’ve got a degree in English from Auburn University, and I can type, sir.”

    “Really? Well, that’s interesting and maybe good timing. Here’s the situation, Private. One of my reporters is shipping out for ‘Nam soon. Would you be interested in taking over his job? With your credentials, I’m assuming you can write an understandable sentence. Is that right?”

    “No problem, sir.” Thank God he wasn’t a ‘Bama grad, ready to unload a dozen cow college jokes.

    Anybody would understand that I was stunned by the sudden change of fortune. Here I was fresh off the duty truck—a man with a very uncertain future—and someone was offering me quite a prize.

    “Yes, I would like that job, sir. You can do that for me?”

    “Well, I can try. You’re a hold-over, right? Give me your full name and service number, and we’ll see.”

    I must have done such a good job cleaning up the PIO that the duty truck didn’t stop there for the next few days. Meanwhile, Christmas was close, and I had the chance to take leave. Before I departed for Huntsville, I contacted the lieutenant, but he had no news for me.

    I came home with high hopes for an interesting and safer future. Maybe I’d even be able to write my own little story to be sent to the Huntsville Times. “Private Rainer Klauss has completed Basic Training at Ft. Benning and is now a highly-regarded journalist with the Public Information Office at the Army Training Center Headquarters.”

    Things didn’t work out that way. When I returned to the post, I was asked to report to the ATC Personnel section. There I was informed that I wasn’t going to be a cub military reporter after all. The job had fallen through. However, Personnel had noticed the phenomenal typing speed posted on my Form 20, and they offered me a job. I thought it over for two seconds and then said: “I’m your man, Sergeant.”

    I reported to duty the next morning.  I was assigned to be the understudy of another fellow who was “short” and was maintaining the records of the senior sergeants (E-7s, E-8s, and E-9s) of the Training Center, fifty some career non-coms, including a few that had ruled over me at Charlie Company. I picked things up OJT. While I was still learning, I somehow kicked off the retirement process for one of the Master Sergeants, an E-8. He had no plans to retire. The Chief Warrant Officer who ran our shop took the heat for me when the sergeant came in to see what kind of idiot had screwed with his records.

    After that embarrassing mistake, I took greater care with the job entrusted to me. I became a dependable soldier and personnel specialist—working gratefully in an air-conditioned building. There, if the volume was kept low, one of the clerks in our office was allowed to have a radio playing. Although many tunes brightened our work day, Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” is the one I remember with the greatest fondness.  What irony to have a wonderful pop tune become the theme song of the “alarming future” I had anticipated with such anxiety. 

    Even though I was an integral member of the Personnel Department of ATC, that did not guarantee me immunity from being reassigned. As long as I had more than a year to serve, I was fair game. Some buddies had already received orders sending them to Vietnam and Korea. I almost volunteered for Vietnam because under the right conditions I would have been able to get out of the Army early and step right into graduate school.  At the last moment, though, I decided not to let the dice fly. After all, who knows what’s in store?  Two months later, I received orders for Germany.  The cosmic design, with the agency of the United States Army again, was sending me back to my home land for one of the best years of my life.

My Job and The Moon Landing
John Drummond
Class of '65

    To combine Tommy's request for summer jobs with the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong's walk on the moon July 29, 1969, it was my good fortune that President Kennedy made a promise that the United States would send a man "to walk on the Moon and return safely to Earth" by the end of the decade.   As a Pre-Med student at Auburn, the curriculum was basically a major in chemistry with a minor in physics.  Next to engineers, General Electric hired more physics grads than any other degree.  GE had the contract for design, manufacture and installation of all electrical components in the Saturn V and the Lunar Module.

    So I was hired as an Engineering Aid during the four summers of 1966-1969.   It beat the heck out of my previous summer job (construction), as it was inside work with no heavy lifting.  The first two summers I worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory;  the next two at Computer Applications Engineering.  Neither is as exciting as they sound.  Since there was a deadline to success set by President Kennedy, I got lots of overtime in at time-and-a-half;  enough to pay my way through Auburn and med school at UAB.  An  added bonus came in the way of unit softball teams, which was great fun, especially since I was competing against much older guys; you know, like in their 30s and 40s.

    Like most of the people on the planet, we were all glued to TV sets on the night of the moon walk, and to the ocean recovery the following week.  GE celebrated our success by throwing a Friday afternoon "Splashdown Party" with BBQ, country music, dancing and draft beer.  However, there was an unexpected downside:  2 weeks later GE sent out about 250 pink slips, laying people off.  Sort of like:  "Thanks for a great job, but don't let the door hit you on the butt on your way out."

    I very much enjoyed the article by Janet James about how proud she was, and how emotional, about the success of The Rocket City in the Apollo Program, and share her emotional reactions to the event.   When I took my klds to see "Apollo 13" some 20 years ago, tears rolled down my cheeks during several scenes, b/c they hit so close to home and such vivid memories.

    I hope classmates are inspired to write in about both first jobs and their recollections of what they felt 50 years ago this month.  Like Janet and me,  I suspect there is a universal sense of pride and appreciation of how lucky we all were to grow up in Huntsville during the 1960s.

        Memphis, TN - I was a 12-year-old school kid living on East Clinton Street, just a few blocks from downtown Huntsville, when I experienced my first major space event. Being so close to town I remember hearing church bells ringing and horns honking in the middle of the night, and I did not know what was going on. I soon found out the U.S. had put its first satellite into orbit and the people in Huntsville were celebrating the event. I thought it was great, since I had always said I wanted to be the first man to go to the moon. Really! I had memorized the names of all of the seven original astronauts and knew more about them than some of my classmates at school.

    But first, we had to be able to reach space. Explorer 1 was launched on January 31, 1958 at 22:48 Eastern Time. Explorer 1 was the first satellite launched by the United States, and was part of the U.S. participation in the International Geophysical Year. The mission followed the first two satellites the previous year; the Soviet Union's Sputnik 1 and 2, beginning the Cold War Space Race between the two nations.

    Move ahead 11 years and I was then a 2nd Lieutenant living in Rancho Cordova, California, and in the middle of training as an Air Force navigator when man first landed on the moon. There went my chance to be first. At the time of the landing I was sitting in front of a combination 21” black and white television and stereo record player. I was not yet able to afford a color television. It was only me and my ex-wife watching together and it seemed more important to me, being from The Rocket City, than to her, being from Elvis’s Memphis. I remember making an audio recording on a cassette tape machine of the event – sure it would have significant meaning in my future. The tape was later destroyed in a garage flood in Ft. Worth, Texas.

    Though I never played a part in the Space Race, I remember once being a guide for Dr. Wernher von Braun at a Boy Scout Camporee event back in Huntsville. My family has also rented sleeping rooms to many of the arsenal workers during the early stages of the program. I was therefore probably the most excited member of my navigator class to witness the history which was made that night.

Last Week's One Cord Song

One Note One

    John Drummond, LHS '65, "I think this note is the opening chord of "A Hard Day's Night," the first hit from The Beatles, in about 1963 or early 1964.   My guess is that it is some offbeat chord, like a C minor 7th or some such.  The song inspired a very quirky but funny film of the same title."

  Jeffrey Fussell , LHS '66). "I didn’t have to Google this one.  It’s the Beatles’ “Hard Day’s Night”.  A pretty easy song to play EXCEPT for the opening chord(s).  Randy Bachman has a great YouTube story about this that is interesting to hear – even for non-musicians. This opening is actually more than one instrument played together, A passable approximation can be played on one guitar, but you need 3 to do it right."

A Hard Day's Night Opening

The following classmates correctly identified last week's opening cord.

Spencer Thompson
J.R. Brooks
Mary Cattadoris
Jeffrey Fussell 
Tony Wynn
Judy Kincaid
Robert Gentle
Glenn James
Linda Provost
Dianne Gurley Miller
John Roberts
Sarajane Tarter
John Drummond 
Darla Steinberg
Collins Wynn
Cherri Polly Massey

A Hard Day's Night

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Subject:    Last Week's Issue

John Drummond

LHS '65


    Tommy, I enjoyed Janet James recount of the moon landing.  I think she is the younger sister of Lee James, Class of '65.  He and I played on the same Monte Sano Little League baseball team.  If so, her famous father was Glenn James, at the time I think a bird colonel and one of the head honchos at the ABMC (Army Ballistic Missile Command) at Redstone Arsenal.   He would have been a right hand to von Braun.  I will bet that you have a special issue coming up about the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong's July 20 lunar stroll.



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