Tag Archives: President Kennedy

Taking a Step. Okay, a Small Step…

Revolutions need a spark to begin.

Tonight, I take one revolutionary step.

For several decades, I’ve collected volumes of historic coins and stamps. Especially coins.

I was honored to receive the Abraham Lincoln coin. And the F.D.R. coin, too. Those people were giants. We were blessed to have them occupy The White House at a critical time in our nation’s history.

I was delighted with the shipments that brought me gold coins commemorating the terms of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. That Washington refused the opportunity to become our first king — and Jefferson’s poetry inspired humanity to champion our cause — must balance out their antebellum slave-holding sins.

Opening the packages that contained the coins honoring Eisenhower, Kennedy, Carter and Obama filled me with pride and patriotism. Promise, intelligence, optimism, compassion and forward thinking were the hallmarks of their terms. I smiled as I slid each of them into their plastic page covers and snapped them into my binder.

Along the way, I endured drunken, racist Andrew Johnson, hapless Herbert Hoover, and Dick Cheney/George W. Bush. I had no problem with my Ronald Reagan coin, even though I believe he was a malevolent influence on our body politic.

Then – today – a package arrived with a Donald J. Trump Presidential coin.

No way. I can’t accept a Trump presidential coin.

I didn’t vote for him – and I don’t want him. He’s a menace to the nation we all profess to love.

So, I sent this note to the coin folks…

It made me feel better. And it may affect someone on the other end.

As I said — a revolution needs a spark to begin.

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Filed under Comedy, History, Politics, Polls, Uncategorized

Let’s Throw Some Healing Water On The Sanders vs. Clinton Flame Wars.

Flame banner jpegTrumpAs the Donald Trump Traveling Faux Populist Political Circus winds its way rightward into a merry, malevolent maelstrom of venom, vitriol and violence, I must tear my gaze from that cable news-abetted car wreck for just a moment to address a caustic and cancerous growth on the left.

I freely admit that I spend way too much time nursing my political jones by surfing Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo and The Huffington Post, among other sites. I find that the website articles and diaries about the 2016 Presidential election provide valuable perspective that can’t be gleaned from the shallow, repetitive and all-too-predictable TV news outlets — obsessed as they are with endless horse race prognostication.

Snarky back and forthBut when I drill down into the comment sections on sites like Kos, TPM and HuffPost, I’m increasingly concerned about the alarming tendency of progressives to snatch defeat from the jaws of potential electoral victory. Even as The Donald is torching the Republican establishment and blasting its electoral hopes to smithereens, many liberal Democrats and progressives seem intent on setting their own house ablaze.H is a liar

asshat 2Reading the comments on progressive, left-leaning websites reveals an ongoing, self-destructive flame war between passionate supporters of the leading Democratic candidates, Senator Bernie Sanders and Secretary Hillary Clinton.

H not fit for Prez 2It’s a disturbing fraternal fight, as “Bernie-bots” and “Clintonites” make critical mistakes of both an historical and politically practical nature.

06firstdraft-bernie-sanders-tmagArticleI’ll state right now that I support Bernie Sanders and his damn near revolutionary economic and social agenda. I would love to see him win the Democratic Party’s nomination. I can also state without equivocation that, should Bernie fail to win the nomination, I will support Hillary Clinton against whoever emerges from the GOP primary scrum.

That said, I’m no political Pollyanna. I know all too well that after a bruising primary fight it’s not always easy for a party to sing “Kumbaya” and come together. Just imagine how hard that will be for the Republicans this year. As I type this, Marco Rubio and John Kasich are both backing off their pledge to back Trump if he’s nominated.

2780922f-17d4-4a76-ab9a-a1fc65761d8dThat’s why I hate to hear Sanders backers say they’ll never vote for Hillary – and vice versa. Standing on principal is one thing: political suicide is another. Progressives should – and must – do better. That’s the practical part of my argument.

When a Hillary supporter sits out the general election because Bernie won the nomination (and vice versa), he or she may as well pull the lever for Trump or Cruz. That’s the reality of our nation’s current two-party system. (Until, of course, Trump fails to become the GOP nominee and launches his own Quixotic third-party bid.)

As I read them, there are two major threads in the Sanders vs. Clinton commentaries. Both are flawed.

Hope & Bernie jpegHillary Clinton, her surrogates, and many of her supporters in the blogosphere flame wars make the essential mistake of criticizing Senator Sanders and his supporters for their idealism. Rather than appeal to that beautiful, energized idealism with a message that can inspire young people and encourage frustrated but hopeful older progressives, Clinton and her campaigners too often drone on about being “practical” and “incremental” and chastise Bernie’s enthused base for wanting “pie-in-the-sky”.

Too many Clintonites view the Bernie-bots as callow youth, lacking the world-weary wisdom that Hillary has gained through her decades of experience. All too often, Hillary and her backers trot out the same stale arguments and dismissive language that the GOP has always used to denigrate progressive policy goals for education, health care and social services — saying that Bernie is “giving things away for free” and “buying votes with free stuff.”

newdealjpegIt’s sad to hear Democrats using Republican talking points. And it’s especially demoralizing to hear avowed liberals still using “socialist” and “Democratic Socialism” as dirty words. I would have thought that FDR’s New Deal would have ended that kind of talk. Wouldn’t it be better for those of us on the left to take advantage of Bernie’s candidacy to erase the stigma attached to “socialism”? It’s clearly not a dirty word to millions of young progressives – and 57-year old liberals like me.

$_35Bernie Sanders is running an aspirational campaign – much like candidate Obama did during his first run to the White House. Hillary and her base make a mistake when they dump on the dreamers. If we don’t reach beyond our grasp, we’ll never know how far we can go.

Take health care, for instance. Had Democrats aspired to a higher goal and put single payer on the table at the outset of the Senate negotiations – we might have done a lot better. We might have controlled the rapacious health insurance industry even more. We’ll never know because Democratic negotiators (in league with insurance companies) took a “practical” and “incremental” approach. Doubtless, Obamacare is far better than what we had before – but it might have been much better. As Bernie would say, “Just sayin’…”

H.pngAs for Bernie’s online legions, I’m often disappointed to hear shallow attacks on Hillary that betray a startling lack of historical knowledge. The worst of these is the constant charge that Hillary is a member of “the oligarchy” and therefore she can never truly represent progressive ideals and policies.

However, while it’s entirely appropriate to debate whether Bernie’s small-donor funded campaign makes him less beholden to special interests than Hillary’s financial support from Wall Street and big donors – it’s breathtaking historical naiveté to think that a member of the oligarchy cannot represent progressive, liberal interests.

1000509261001_1628429998001_BIO-Biography-13-World-Leaders-Franklin-D-Roosevelt-SFGet out your history books, Bernie-bots, and look up President Theodore Roosevelt, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

All three of these guys were members of the American oligarchy: born to very wealthy families, landed, connected, and raised in comfort and privilege. But what did they do?

GTY_theodore_roosevelt_sk_141229Teddy Roosevelt took on “the robber barons” of his time and broke up the Gilded Age corporate monopolies that dominated the American economy at the turn-of-the-century. They called this son of the oligarchy “The Trust Buster”.

In an economic situation much like that which led to the Great Recession of 2007, Teddy Roosevelt believed that Wall Street was acting unwisely. While greedy Wall Street financiers were living high off the hog, the working classes were getting the shaft. If cutting wages increased corporate profits — just do it! TR saw that this blatant exploitation of the masses could ignite a violent revolution: the kind that was roiling Europe. So in 1902, he launched an attack on the captains of industry, including JP Morgan, putting teeth into enforcement of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

1895155_origTeddy’s legendary battle against corporate greed and arrogance makes the 2010 Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act look very pale, indeed.

And then, of course, there was TR’s foundational work in environmental conservation and the growth of our great National Parks. Think he didn’t take on big mining, ranching and timber-cutting interests to preserve those awesome wilderness landscapes for the public?

78319-004-545F8CDD.jpg.pagespeed.ce.Q0DmgOlFcyFranklin Delano Roosevelt was also a member of the oligarchy. Both of his parents were members of wealthy old New York families on the social register – related by blood or marriage to 11 other former presidents: John Adams, James Madison, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison, William H. Taft and, of course, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR’s fifth cousin. Now, that’s oligarchy for you.

fdr1But, did FDR’s wealth and connections make him the enemy of progressive values? Do I have to explain how he saved the nation after three successive Republican administrations drove America into the Great Depression? In that Herculean effort, FDR practically invented modern American liberalism with his New Deal – ambitious, progressive programs like the WPA, the Civilian Conservation Corps and that little thing called Social Security.

FDR was a Democratic giant, a champion of American progressive values – and a member of the oligarchy.

john-f-kennedyJFK was no FDR – but he was a progressive in his time, founding the Peace Corps and helping to advance the cause of civil rights and voting rights. Another son of great wealth and privilege, John F Kennedy may have been an oligarch, but he inspired a generation of young progressives – including Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.Young B&H

So, let’s keep everything in perspective, my lefty compatriots. Keep your eyes on the electoral prize.

Douse the flame wars.Stop bashing

Let’s keep the contest for the Democratic nomination honest and respectful — with an informed appreciation for the role of liberal values in American politics, past, present and future.

At some point this summer, we’ll all need to come together.

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Home Sweet Swing State.

“And again I say unto you: It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a Republican to win the Presidency without carrying the great state of Ohio.”

With apologies to Matthew 19:24

Ohio and the American Presidency have a very close relationship. In fact, there have been seven U.S. presidents who were born in the Buckeye State. Topping the list is my personal hero Ulysses S. Grant, followed by Rutherford Hayes, James Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, William Howard Taft and Warren Harding.

In the period after the Civil War, from 1869 to 1923, seven out of the eleven men who won The White House were Ohioans — including three presidents in a row: Grant, Hayes and Garfield, Civil War veterans all.

And one of the four presidents who weren’t from Ohio was named Cleveland!

Of course, presidential politics are fraught with contention on all levels – and that extends to the claim I heard as a Cleveland schoolboy that Ohio was the “Mother of Presidents”.

That rankles Virginians who point out, correctly, that eight Commanders in Chief were born in the Old Dominion. Ohioans counter by claiming an eighth president of their own, William Henry Harrison, who settled in Ohio and lived there until his death. Virginians counter that Harrison didn’t move to Ohio until after his marriage in 1795, when he was about 23 years old. Yielding to Virginia, Ohio now calls itself the “Mother of Modern Presidents”.

Would that all presidential disputes could be solved by the deft insertion of an adjective.

There’s another oft-stated reason for Ohio to claim the title of Mother of Modern Presidents. No Republican presidential nominee has won the White House without carrying Ohio — and no president has been elected without winning in the Buckeye State since Democrat John F. Kennedy in 1960.

Truly, my beloved home state is the mother of all Oval Office bellwethers.

In this election, Ohio is back at the epicenter of presidential politics.

As it was in the 2004 contest, Ohio is shaping up as the lynchpin among the remaining battleground states – where victory in the Electoral College will ultimately be decided.

The 2004 election was a low point for the practice of democracy in Ohio. Aided by a Republican Secretary of State who did all he could to thwart the desire of urban, minority and college voters to cast their ballots – President Bush defeated John Kerry by just 118,775 out of 5,598,679 total votes. A mere 2.1 % margin of victory gave Ohio’s 20 electoral votes to Bush – and with them, a second god-awful term in the White House for Dubya.

I hope that the election in Ohio is not that close on November 6th.

It certainly shouldn’t be.

Given President Obama’s steadfast support for middle class and working people – as exemplified by his courageous decision on the auto bailout – sensible, pragmatic and hard working Ohioans should give Obama their support.

Given President Obama’s support for women’s rights, freedom of choice and equal pay – Ohio women (and the men who love and respect their wives and daughters) should support the man who has been their champion.

I expect that a proud, blue collar state that has seen unemployment rates drop and manufacturing jobs rebound as President Obama pulled our economy out of the deep, dark ditch into which it was plunged by discredited Republican “top-down” economics won’t be fooled again by Romney’s magical plans, false promises, evasions and outright lies.

Please listen, my fellow Ohioans.

Under Romney, the nation’s deficit will no doubt rise — as the rich get richer, the middle class get squeezed, and the poor and disadvantaged among us get thrown under the bus. It’s been that way with GOP presidents since Ronald Reagan blew up the deficit and began the redistribution of America’s wealth to the fat cats at the very top of the economic food chain.

Don’t be fooled, Ohio.

Ohioans love the red, white and blue, and we salute our soldiers with pride and profound gratitude – but Romney never deals with our war veterans unless he’s using them for a photo op.

Romney said that he didn’t mention our warriors in Iraq and Afghanistan – or our returning vets – in his acceptance speech at the GOP convention because, When you give a speech you don’t go through a laundry list, you talk about the things that you think are important and I described in my speech, my commitment to a strong military unlike the president’s decision to cut our military. And I didn’t use the word “troops”, I used the word military. I think they refer to the same thing.”

Did you hear that, Ohio?

Mitt Romney doesn’t see the vital difference between the flesh and blood men and women who serve our nation heroically on the battlefield — and the corporate war profiteers who make billions building planes, tanks, ships and expensive weapons systems.

That’s why Romney wants to take our hard-earned tax dollars to plow another two trillion into military spending that the Pentagon hasn’t even asked for. Someone’s going to get rich off Mitt’s extra two trillion – and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that many of those guys are the same military-industrial complex billionaires secretly bankrolling Mitt’s Super-Pacs.

My fellow Buckeyes, Mitt Romney says he should get your vote because he’s a businessman. But why is that? What does being a businessman have to do with running the government?

Is it cost effective for the post office to pick up your Grandma’s mail at the end of a long rural road in the Appalachian mountains of southeastern Ohio? A bottom-line businessman like Romney would conclude that it’s not profitable – but our government is devoted to providing every citizen with postal service, regardless of where they live. That’s the American way.

I could go on and on about this “government should be run like a business” canard. It’s a fallacy. And Ohioans should know better than to listen to such garbage. The job of government is not to turn a profit — but to keep us safe, provide needed services, and promote the general welfare. Mitt Romney has no clue how do get THAT job done. It doesn’t interest him.

Business CEO Romney made his money as a “vulture capitalist”. I didn’t coin that term – Mitt’s Republican competitors did. Mitt and his Bain Capital cronies bought American companies, loaded them up with debt, and “harvested” them by selling off their assets and shipping the jobs overseas.

That’s a formula that made Mitt millions. But it’s not a formula made for Ohio workers.

C’mon, Ohio! Vote for your own interests on November 6th. Vote for your jobs, your homes, your communities, our veterans, your wife, your daughter, your children’s education – and so much more.

Vote for Barack Obama.

And then, we can claim Obama as one of our own. Along with William Henry Harrison, President Obama would be the 9th president from Ohio. We could drop the “Modern” and truly call our state the Mother of Presidents.

Go, Buckeyes! Vote!

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Growing Up in the Space Age

The Space Shuttle Atlantis took off from the Kennedy Space Center on Friday morning, July 8, 2011 – and as I write this, it’s still out there, flying through space on NASA’s final shuttle flight. The last voyage of Atlantis marks the end of three decades of the U.S. Space Shuttle program – and 54 years since the dawn of the Space Age.

At 53 years of age, I am a true child of the Space Age.

So, why didn’t I feel a greater tug at my heart when I witnessed this last Space Shuttle launch? For the first time in my lifetime, there will be no manned space program – and few people seem to care. New York Yankee captain Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit (a home run, no less) and the World Cup dramatics of the U.S. Women’s Soccer team have gotten more airplay and headlines than the end of a momentous era in American history.

Why hasn’t NASA’s Space Shuttle program captured the American imagination the way the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs did? Maybe it’s because we stopped our manned explorations at the Moon – and didn’t put our footprints on another planet. Maybe it’s because we don’t really understand what the International Space Station is all about. Maybe it’s because we got bored with 130 Space Shuttle flights. Or it might be because the amazing Hubble Space Telescope has shown us that the universe is so vast that man has no hope of conquering it.

As seen by The Hubble Space Telescope: Those aren't stars, folks. They're galaxies.

All I know is that there was a time when American astronauts getting launched into space was the coolest thing ever. Long before we ever heard of “The Right Stuff”, guys like John Glenn, Ed White, and Jim Lovell were even bigger stars than Major League baseball players.

From take-off to splashdown, the manned space flights of my boyhood were always the biggest events of the year.

We were on our way to the Moon. And it was glorious.

My wife Victoria was seven months old when the Space Age began on October 4, 1957 with the Soviet Union’s launch of its Sputnik 1 satellite. The Russians beating us into space freaked Americans out so much that we actually invested heavily in education – especially in science and math – for fear of falling behind. (Fortunately, Eisenhower’s Republican Party was in the White House, not John Boehner’s cynical GOP.)

Just four months after Sputnik, the U.S. put its first satellite, Explorer 1, into space – and the Space Race between America and the Soviet Union was underway.

Explorer 1 was launched on January 31, 1958 and two and a half months later, I was born. That same April week, the Russians sent a dog into space.

Laika, a 3-year old Siberian Husky — nicknamed “Muttnik” by the American press — was rocketed into orbit atop a modified intercontinental ballistic missile. It’s clear that PETA was not operating in the Soviet Union at the time, because Muttnik’s capsule was not designed for recovery. Laika had already passed away in space by the time her capsule burned up on re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

The Russian and American space programs were racing to be the first to put a man in space. But first, lower primates were used as guinea pigs. I was eight months old and still in diapers when the first space monkey was shot into the heavens. On December 13, 1958 the U.S. Army launched a squirrel monkey named Gordo on a suborbital flight. Gordo went up and down safely — but he died during recovery due to equipment failure.

A year later, on December 4, 1959, a rhesus monkey named Sam rode a Mercury capsule 55 miles into space. Unlike the unlucky Gordo, Sam was recovered alive in the Atlantic Ocean.

The next month, Miss Sam took her turn in space, successfully testing the Mercury capsule’s escape system on a 58-minute test flight.

Go, Space Monkeys, go!

I was approaching my 3rd birthday by the time the U.S. Space Program worked its way up the Evolutionary ladder to a chimpanzee named Ham. The 4-year old chimp blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on January 31, 1961. Ham’s job was to show that live animals aboard a spacecraft could carry out their jobs during launch, weightlessness and re-entry. Ham passed the test with flying colors, survived the mission, and retired to the National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C.

A little more than two months after we put a chimp in space – the Russians launched a human being.

Four days before my third birthday, on April 12 1961, cosmonaut (“sailor of the universe”) Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth aboard his spacecraft Vostok 1.

The Soviet Union had won the race to put a man in space — but The United States of America wasn’t far behind.

Three weeks after Gagarin’s flight, on May 5 1961, astronaut (“sailor of the stars”) Alan Shepard made a suborbital spaceflight in the Mercury capsule Freedom 7. The first American in space was a Big Deal.

Three weeks after Shepard’s voyage, President John F. Kennedy redefined the ultimate goal of the Space Race, declaring, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”

President Kennedy congratulates astronaut Alan Shepard, the First American in Space.

That was some pretty exciting stuff. That was Big Thinking. Kennedy’s ambitious and optimistic vision would ultimately light the way to an era of American dominance in science, math, and computer technology as we raced the Soviets to the Moon. (Tea Party nihilists? Are you listening?)

Almost a year after the Soviets put a human into orbit, astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth on February 20, 1962. Glenn’s achievement was the first I actually remember being aware of as a child, though I was not yet four years old.

A pilot in the Marines, John Glenn was from my home state of Ohio (and would later become a long-serving Senator) – and my fellow Clevelanders were all abuzz with the thrill of our favorite son’s achievement.

A little more than 7 years later, the entire world would be transfixed by the words and actions of another astronaut from Ohio.

The same year that Glenn orbited the Earth, the U.S. introduced Project Gemini to the world.

Gemini was a two-man spacecraft designed so that American astronauts and NASA technicians could develop and practice all the technologies, maneuvers and skills needed to get to the Moon, including the docking of two spacecraft and voyages that were long enough to simulate flying to the Moon and back. Later in ’62, President Kennedy Speech made a speech at Rice University in Houston, summing up the rationale for putting a man on the Moon.

“We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…”

As kids in the mid-1960’s, we could not get enough of the Gemini program.

Each new launch, each new astronaut and each new spaceflight broke new ground.

Each daring Gemini mission gave us another marvelous achievement, a new source of profound and positive wonder, two new spaceman heroes — and, of course, a cool new plastic model kit to buy and build.

With two tiny astronauts to glue into their seats in that 2-man Gemini capsule.

In March of ’65, astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom and John W. Young aboard Gemini 3 became the first to change their spacecraft’s orbit.

In August of ’65, the crew of Gemini 5, Gordon Cooper and Charles “Pete” Conrad, spent 8 days flying in space, long enough for a lunar mission.

By December of that same year, Frank Borman and James A. Lovell had extended that record to 14 days aboard Gemini 7.

Grissom, Cooper, Conrad, Borman and Lovell became household names — and Americans swelled with pride as each Gemini mission brought new accomplishments, and took us another tangible step closer to our national goal of beating the Soviets to the Moon.

In 1966, I was a second grader making my First Holy Communion at St. Rocco’s Church — and Gemini was in its last year, with five missions to close out the program.

Two Gemini astronauts who made spaceflights that year — Neil Armstrong (Gemini 8) and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin (Gemini 12) — would play even larger roles in the next phase of NASA’s drive to make good on JFK’s lofty lunar pledge: the Apollo Program.

Neil Armstrong prepares for his Gemini 8 flight & Buzz Aldrin's Gemini 12 spacewalk.

Astronauts David Scott and Neil Armstrong during tests prior to their Gemini 8 space flight.

To us kids, Apollo was even cooler than Gemini because the space capsule was bigger – and there were now three astronauts to glue onto their seats in our models. But our excitement would come a bit later.

Because the first news we kids heard about the Apollo program was not good. In fact, it was the first bad news we’d ever heard out of NASA since the race to the Moon began.

And it was reallybad news.

The doomed Apollo 1 astronauts testing equipment in their capsule. Gus Grissom is at right.

I was almost 9-years old on January 27, 1967 when the first Apollo crew died in a fire that swept through their capsule during a dress rehearsal for their upcoming mission. The loss of three American astronauts was shocking. We kids had heard that lots of Russian cosmonauts had been killed over the years – their deaths whitewashed by the censored Soviet press — but “Gus” Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee were the first casualties in the omnipotent U.S. Space program that we knew about.

Seeing the grim pictures of the charred Apollo 1 capsule in the newspapers that I delivered changed the way I (and all my buddies) viewed the space program. We were reminded that spaceflight was a dangerous, deadly business — and that no team, not even NASA, wins every time.

It was a lesson we would re-learn two decades later.

Following a series of unmanned Apollo launches that tested every aspect of the program’s equipment and technology, Apollo 7 was the first manned Apollo mission after the tragedy that claimed the lives of Grissom, Chaffee and White.

From October 11 to 22, 1968, Apollo 7 astronauts Wallly Schirra, Donn F. Eisele, and Walt Cunningham orbited the Earth for 11-days — testing Apollo’s life-support, propulsion, and control systems.

After the Apollo 1 tragedy, Apollo 7’s technical success gave NASA the confidence it needed to send Apollo 8 around the Moon two months later.

1968 was an exciting year to be a fourth grader. The assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy shook my liberal parents to the core (I can still recall my confused father waking me to announce that “Rosey Greer just killed Robert Kennedy”) — but Detroit Tigers pitcher Denny McClain won 31 games during the “Year of the Pitcher” and Batman was in its final season on TV. Plus — America finally got within reach of the Moon.

Apollo 8 took off on 21 December 1968, and became the first manned spacecraft to orbit another heavenly body when crew members Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders flew around the Moon ten times. I’ll never forget that epochal Christmas Eve broadcast, beamed from Apollo 8 in lunar orbit, in which the crew read passages from the King James Bible’s Book of Genesis. It was the first time we ever saw an Earthrise – and it was one of the most-watched television broadcasts worldwide.

But, half a year later, even more people around the globe would be glued to the progress – and triumph — of another Apollo mission.

In the days leading up to the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon, you could get a cardboard model of the Apollo capsule and the Lunar Module at Union 76 gas stations. Of course, I got mine.

The Revell model kit was even cooler because it also included the Lunar Lander: the strange, spider-legged craft that two of the Apollo 11 astronauts would ride down to the lunar surface and park in an area called the Sea of Tranquility.

For an 11-year old 5th grader, this was the Greatest Adventure You Could Possibly Imagine. And what made it even greater is that the mission’s commander was a fellow Ohioan, Neil Armstrong – and Armstrong was tapped to be the first man to set foot on the Moon!

Armstrong would be joined on the Moon by Buzz Aldrin – and Apollo 11’s third crew member, Michael Collins, would cruise around the Moon in the command module like a cosmic getaway driver waiting to pick the Moonwalkers up, their pockets stuffed with Moon rocks after the Big Lunar Heist.

Armstrong, Collins & Aldrin: The Apollo 11 Crew.

The lunar lander, Eagle, is landing...

It was the greatest TV show ever – and my Uncle Archie and his family came to our house on Cleveland’s west side to watch the Big Event on July 20, 1969.

At least 500 million television viewers around the world watched as citizen-astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first human to step onto the Moon.

And, while I hate to call out a fellow Ohioan, Armstrong clearly flubbed his big, history-making line!

Armstrong meant to say, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” But our hero didn’t say “one small step for a man” as he put his historic footprint on the Moon — he just said, “one small step for man”.

Pedants would say that rendered Armstrong’s great quote redundant – but at the time, nobody cared.

I still remember the pride I felt delivering The Cleveland Plain Dealer on my paper route early the next morning – trumpeting one of those very rare headlines that took up the entire front page.

(The New York Post does it everyday — but Rupert Murdoch doesn’t run any real newspapers.)

Downstate, in Neil Armstrong’s hometown of Wapakoneta, Ohio, my fellow paperboys were delivering the same triumphant news.

Apollo 11 made good on President Kennedy’s pledge to put a man on the moon within the decade.

Americans had won the race to the Moon.

We didn’t know it yet – but Apollo 11 was the high water mark of the U.S. space program.

Later Apollo missions also had their highlights. In February 1971, Apollo 14 Commander, Alan Shepard (the first American in space) became the fifth man to walk on the Moon – and the first to play golf on the lunar surface.

Shepard took out a modified 6-iron and after a few Moon Mulligans, he hit one good shot.

Now that astronauts were playing golf on the moon, I guess we needed a golf cart up there, too.

In July of ’71, Apollo 15 became the fourth mission to put men on the Moon – and the first to break out the lunar rover! To kids like me, it looked like the ultimate dune buggy. Astronauts David Scott and James Irwin tooled around in the rover, traveling 17 miles across the lunar landscape. The lunar rover was another Space Age innovation – and another cool model to build.

The end of the Apollo Program meant no more moonwalks, moon rocks, lunar rovers…

And a lot less public passion for NASA — and our national space exploration program.

I graduated from St. Rocco’s grade school in 1972 – and I was a freshman at Cleveland Central Catholic High School when Apollo 17 made the sixth and final lunar landing in December of that year.

There would be four long years of high school and four years at Northwestern University before Americans finally got back into space.

During my college years, I might not have thought about space travel at all if it weren’t for Professor J. Allen Hynek’s Astronomy course. Hynek had a passion for space exploration and believed it was foolish to assume that humans were the only intelligent life in the universe. Founder of the Center for UFO Studies, it was Hynek who coined the term “close encounters of the third kind.” (He even got a cameo in the Steven Spielberg’s movie.)

Professor Hynek impressed me with the vastness of space – and while I nearly failed Astronomy, I somehow managed to talk my way into his Honors Astronomy class.

It was a small class of about twenty students, dominated by discussion and Hynek’s wonderful, enlightening stories. My final grade rested on the strength of my final presentation – and I chose my subject wisely: the Space Race.

Professor Hynek had worked with the Air Force and NASA since the days of project Blue Book. He knew nearly every NASA administrator and astronaut personally – and he took my final presentation as a series of cues to launch into anecdotes about his personal experiences during those thrilling years when Americans strove to conquer the Moon – and succeeded. Basically, I co-hosted my presentation with Dr. Hynek. And I got an A in the class.

But by the time I graduated from NU in 1980, the excitement of the Apollo missions seemed like ancient history. NASA wasn’t pushing on to Mars. That was disappointing. So were Watergate, the Iranian Hostage Crisis and the Arab Oil Embargo. And some paranoid cynics were even claiming the lunar landings were faked!

The disillusioned mood was captured in Capricorn One, a 1978 movie in which the U.S. government stages a Mars landing hoax.

Americans needed a morale boost in 1981. Frustrated voters gave us President Ronald Reagan and NASA gave us the Space Shuttle program.

The Space Shuttle was kinda cool at first. I mean, come on – a reusable space vehicle that could land on a runway like a plane? That was really neat.

But by the time the first shuttle, dubbed Columbia, was launched on April 12, 1981, it had been exactly 20 years since cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space — and no American had been in space in more than 8 years.

NASA’s second space shuttle, Challenger, made its maiden flight on April 4, 1983. Nearly three years later, on January 28, 1986, Challenger was on the launch pad, ready to go on her tenth mission.

By then, the Shuttle Program was taken for granted by many Americans, including me.

Without a sexy, inspirational objective like taking a man to the Moon to fire our imaginations, the astronauts on the space shuttle missions seemed more like lab technicians in space, performing experiments, testing equipment, and building a space station whose purpose was ill-defined and unappreciated by the general public.

Then, just 73 seconds after lift-off – Challenger’s tenth mission turned into a spectacular reminder of the grave dangers of manned space flight.

Challenger exploded during its ascent, killing all seven astronauts on board, including Christa McAuliffe, a 37-year old elementary school teacher. Christa’s starring role as the first teacher in space attracted more attention to this launch than most of the previous shuttle missions.

Largely because of space pioneer teacher Christa McAuliffe, school kids across the country were watching the launch in their classrooms (just as we’d done at St. Rocco’s two decades earlier.)

In a few shocking, fiery moments, the Challenger Disaster became the most indelible image of the Space Program since Armstrong took that first step on the Moon.

And we all learned about “O-rings.”

Seventeen years after Challenger blew up, the Space Shuttle Columbia came to ruin on the opposite end of its journey: Columbia broke up on re-entry into the atmosphere on February 1, 2003, killing all seven crew members.

In a way, Challenger and Columbia were tragic bookends to a Space Shuttle Program that has been largely unsung in the course of 130 missions. This week’s final voyage of the Space Shuttle Atlantis closes the Shuttle Program’s page in the epic Space Age adventure series that has been so much a part of my generation.

Bon Voyage, Atlantis. Prayers for your safe return.

A Parochial Coda:

After serving 24 years as a Senator from Ohio, my boyhood hero, John Glenn – the fist American to orbit the Earth – became the oldest person to go into space.

Glenn was 77-years old on October 29, 1998, when he took his second record-breaking spaceflight, this time aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery.

I had the privilege of meeting Senator John Glenn 23 years before his space shuttle flight when I was a high school junior visiting Washington D.C. as part of a Close Up Program trip.

The year was 1975, and it had only been 13 years since Glenn had flown his Mercury capsule in orbit around the Earth.

He seemed larger than life as he spoke to us in that Congressional committee meeting room. He was a real hero — a guy with The Right Stuff.

John Glenn was born on July 18, 1921 – and next week he’ll celebrate his 90th birthday.

Happy birthday, John!

Thanks for the memories.

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