My Personal Memories of G. Gordon Liddy

Being a military historian (among other things), you get to meet some really fascinating people.

I heard late last night that G. Gordon Liddy of Watergate fame had passed away at the age of 90.  It immediately brought back some of my memories of the man.  For those of you that didn’t know, Gordon Liddy had a syndicated radio program on WJFK here in Washington DC for several years. I was honored to be a guest several times. 

To say that Liddy was conservative didn’t do him justice.  He made no qualms about his political slant.  People that tried to disregard him as a convicted felon found that he owned that too.  It didn’t faze him.  He was outspoken about his views and when a friend turned me onto his show, I found myself tuning in each day. 

I don’t hate doing book tours, going on TV and radio to talk about my work.  At the same time, I don’t look forward to them either. It was on a book tour that I met Gordon.  Liddy had history authors on all of the time which was one of the reasons I liked his show (the other was discussions about guns.)  When I began to write military history books, starting with The Cruise of the Sea Eagle, my publicist contacted me and said, “You probably don’t want to do this one, but G. Gordon Liddy wants you on his show.” 

I was all over it!  This was a chance to meet a historical figure and as a historian, I couldn’t pass it up.  Besides, I was a fan of his show.  When I was ushered into meet him, I found him imposing – not so much from a stature perspective, but from his presence.  I always had the feeling that despite his age, he could kick my ass if he wanted to. He was warm and gregarious, told me before we went on the air that he had read the book – which impressed me.  A lot of interviewers (most) don’t actually read the book you are there to talk about – they get a Cliff Notes version from some staffer or ask you to provide questions in advance.  Not Liddy, he had a long list.

It is fun to be interviewed by someone that respects your work and I knew I was doing well when Gordon told me he wanted to keep me on for the full hour.  On the breaks, he actually started talking to me about my craft – what he liked about my style of writing.  He asked about my family, what I did for a real job, personal stuff. 

When I was done Gordon asked me to autograph his copy of the book.  In other words, he was keeping the book, and that was very cool to me. He and Bill O’Reilly are the only people that have interviewed me that asked for my autograph. When we finished Gordon spent a few minutes with my wife, introducing himself, talking to her.  He asked if she brought a camera and if she would take a picture of him and me.  He did this every time I was on his show. 

Liddy’s grip on history, especially military history, was as firm as his double-handed handshake. He knew his stuff and even told me that after he read one of my books, he read another one on a tangent subject, just so that he could be prepared with better questions.  These were not fluff interviews, they were like oral exams with a highly trained professor. Still, he was very polite, so you didn’t feel nervous, but instead had a real conversation about the topic. 

I was on Gordon’s show three times, once for Terror of the Autumn Skies, my book on Frank Luke Jr.; and for Lost Eagles, my book on Frederick Zinn and the search for missing airmen.  His knowledge of history was impressive as well as his ability to organize and articulate a question.

You may be cool, but never quite this cool as shaking hands with G. Gordon Liddy

On my last visit, my father in-law was in town.  He was a die-hard liberal and when he found out I was going on Liddy’s show, he cringed.  So, I invited him and my son Alex to come along.  When we were on break Liddy noticed I had brought ‘an entourage’ and I told him I wanted my son to meet him because of his role in history and I wanted my father in-law to meet him because he was an easily triggered liberal.  Liddy grinned devilishly. 

When the show was over he came out and insisted on having his photo taken with my father in-law, thanking him for his military service. It totally caught my father in-law off guard, who stood speechless and shook and hand, numb at the courtesy he showed him.  He want out of his way to be nice. 

By the time they were done, my father in-law had has arm around Gordon.

Gordon gave me a wink as he returned to the booth…and I got it. He knew people and knew how to control situations like that.  The guy was brilliant. 

There will be a lot of people today who will scorn Liddy. They will talk about Watergate and his role.  Most will gloss over his military service and his time in the FBI.  Pundits will want to get in one last smear of him, because that’s what the mainstream media does now.  You’ll hear the words ‘felon’ and ‘mastermind of Watergate’ or ‘the man that ultimately took down Richard Nixon.’  They won’t go into the details at all because it is old news and doesn’t fit the current narratives.     None will talk about the warmth of the man or his cutting wit and intellect.  That falls to me. Gordon was bright, intellectually gifted, and incredibly nice in person.  He also did not tolerate bullshit.  He was an icon from a different era and made his footprint on history hard, grinding it in deep. Haters are going to hate.  Today I will remember the man I knew from the three hours or so of my life I spent with him.

Review: Unmasked: Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy by Andy Ngo

An eye-opener

I rarely read contemporary non-fiction but this book caught my attention.  I follow Andy Ngo on Twitter and have seen his videos of the ongoing rioting that is still happening in Portland.  He often covers riots and violence that I never see on TV.  I also saw how Antifa went after him on social media which actually added to his credibility with me. I am working on some fiction where insights into Antifa might be useful, so I picked this book up.  Besides, as a true crime author, I thought it might be something worth exploring. 

I know there are bound to be a few of you that will claim, “Antifa is a movement – it’s not an organization. They didn’t riot this summer, the riots were all caused by right wing extremists.” I won’t wade into that debate because nothing I write is going to change your perspective. Let me share a true story from this spring. A friend of mine was elected to a position in a rural Virginia county’s Republican Committee. Three days after the announcement of his position in the newspaper, someone shoved a handwritten note in his mailbox.  It opened with “Greetings from Antifa” and went on to say that they were “a direct antifacist group” and he had been declared to be a fascist. It was signed with the group’s three arrows stabbing downward. I have a photo of the note I keep on my phone – I’m not sharing it because I don’t want to jeopardize any criminal investigation that may be underway. 

The note was a threat. If any of us had received it, we would have felt threatened. It was shoved in a mailbox in the middle of the night by cowards.  It was a message – ‘we know where you live,’ a form of doxing, which I later learned is an Antifa trademark tactic. So while you may say that the group doesn’t exist or that it is just an idea – let me say that they receive funds, legal assistance and I have seen their tactics in-use…even in rural Virginia.

Andy Ngo’s book, Unmasked, is a disturbing read, mostly because it is well documented and rings true. These anarchist cells are a dangerous threat to our nation, if not the world.  Mr. Ngo has been on the front lines from their most recent incidents of violence and has done a very good job of organizing the book to cover not only the history of these movements, but their dangerous tactics. 

I particularly liked his no-nonsense reporting of the media cover-up of Antifa’s violence. The sympathetic press and half of the politicians of our nation refuse to acknowledge the role Antifa has clearly played in incidents – all of which are confirmed and footnoted in Ngo’s book.  I found it truly amazing that while I was reading it, on The View, Joy Behar said Antifa, “…doesn’t even exist.” Her position on this was so well written about in Ngo’s book, it was almost creepy to hear her words. (God no, I don’t watch The View – but I did see a link to her comment on Facebook.) 

Extremists on both sides are horrible – be they right or left. This book focuses on one organization but also does not pull punches with the right wing groups out there.  Antifa is a danger because they want to take down the United States and do away with capitalism…period. They believe that the ends justifies the means – so violence is perfectly acceptable to them. They are dangerous– having nearly killed the author of Unmasked at one point in their attacks. Others have died by their actions as well, as you can read about in this book.

My criticism of the book is mostly in the history chapter. I would have expected a little more there, such as the 1920’s anarchist movements and bombings in the US and around the globe.  It was covered, but only lightly.  I would have liked to have seen more about other radical groups such as the Weather Underground or the Symbionese Liberation Army.  Then again, I’m a historian – so that is what I would have liked to have read more about. 

What I found probably most disturbing was how politicians had responded to Antifa in terms of dismissing charges against them or cowering to them in other ways. In some ways, I feel they are courting the devil by not taking a stand against the Antifa threat. 

I think Unmasked is an important book because it bypasses the mainstream media’s ignoring the Antifa threat or even reporting on it. It is well footnoted and supported.  Ngo’s writing style is crisp.  I like the structure of the book.  I didn’t want to read his origin story first, and he didn’t disappoint – he put me, as the reader, in the thick of the action from the start.  I encourage people to pick this book up and read it if you want the inside story of this domestic threat to our nation’s stability. 

Beware the Ides of March

The day to settle past debts takes on new meaning.

When you look back at the assassination of Caesar the parallels to today’s world of politics cannot be ignored.  So on this, the Ides of March, it is worth taking a look back at this arguably most infamous political assassination. 

Caesar was not killed so much for what he had done, but what the senators and conspirators feared he might do.  He was arrogant, which ruffled the feathers of many senators.  Caesar looked to change the status quo, which those in power chaffed at.  This stemmed from the belief that he wished to be named king, and a monarchy would diminish the power of the senate. Adding to this, he was popular with the people.  Large groups of citizens assembled and called for him to declare himself king.  To the nobles, Caesar was a threat to their power.  By his very nature and the civil war he won against the Senate, Caesar was a divisive individual but the people, as a whole, did love him.  Oddly enough, while Caesar never said that he was opposed to being king, there is little evidence that had a plan in place to establish himself as such.  As stated above, it was the fear of what Caesar might do that led to his demise.

A conspiracy was launched to kill Caesar on 22 February 44 BC between Cassius Longinus and Marcus Brutus, his brother-in-law.  Eventually there would be at least 20 people involved with the assassination plot.  They toyed with killing him in the senate itself, but feared it would be seen as a political move by his followers.  Instead they determined that he would need to be killed in a very public place, outside of the senate which he would be attending. 

The day chosen was the Ides of March – a day that Romans often settled their debts.  Caesar almost didn’t attend.  His wife, Calpurnia, had a dreamt that he was murdered and she was holding his lifeless body.  She begged him to not go to the senate and for a time, he agreed, sending Marc Antony in his stead to dismiss the senate. Decimus Brutus, a general and politician and one of the conspirators, came to his home and urged him to attend the meeting.  “What do you say, Caesar? Will someone of your stature pay attention to a woman’s dreams and the omens of foolish men?” His manhood sufficiently prodded, Caesar agreed to go. 

At Curia in the Theatre of Pompey he was confronted by Lucius Tillius Cimber with a petition to recall his brother who had been exiled. As was tradition at the time, supporters gathered around Caesar to voice their support.  Caesar waved off the petition, as anticipated.  Cimber grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled down his toga, hindering his ability to respond. Caesar called out, “Why this violence?” Casca Longus was the first of the conspirators to land a blow, a dagger thrust to Caesar’s neck.  The others pounced on Caesar, stabbing him some 23 times. 

He tried to lunge away but was blinded by blood.  He tripped and fell, collapsing at the base of the Curia. 

Differing accounts have emerged over the centuries as to his last words.  Ultimately it was Shakespeare who coined the phrase, “Et tu, Brute?” (“You too, Brutus?”).  This is pure fiction. 

His death, at the hands of Rome’s elites, was done under the auspices that they were acting in the best interests of Rome.  Ultimately it backfired on the assassins.  They underestimated how much the public loved Caesar.  A new round of civil wars would eventually follow.  While his conspirators had planned his death in detail, they had not planned well for the aftermath.  Some historians have argued that the assassination had actually started the downward spiral of Rome. 

The Cuban Missile Crisis – Map of Guantanamo Bay During the Crisis

Gitmo – 1962

I am an author primarily in three genres:  Science Fiction, True Crime, and Military History.  Military History is the fun one since, in many respects, it bleeds into my science fiction writing so heavily.  October always stirs memories for me as a writer.  Some go to the first of the Colonial Park Murders, other thoughts go to the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Both tug at me differently, emotionally and otherwise.  A few years ago I wrote a book on the Cuban Missile Crisis – The Fires of October

My approach was different than previous books on the subject.  It focused on the planned invasion of Cuba – Operation Scabbards (Op Plan 316-1-62).  No one had really done a book on the invasion that never happened, so I did break some new ground.  I got a lot of material declassified for the book and found some real surprises in my research. There is little doubt in my mind that if we had invaded Cuba with conventional forces it would have been very costly for the US military. We would have had our own little Vietnam experience in 1962, 90 miles off the Florida Coast. 

The attached map was one we didn’t use fully in the book, but I thought historians out there might like it.  It was drawn up in November of 1962, right on the heels of the crisis, showing Guantanamo Bay.   It is one of the best maps I found of the Bay from the time period.  The letters marked key marshaling points and staging areas.  During the invasion, there would have been a push out from Guantanamo Bay, but the main thrust of the invasion would have been on the north shores of the island. 

As we cross another anniversary of the crisis, I thought folks might enjoy this little graphic tid-bit. 

75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Halle Germany by the American Army and a German WWI Naval Hero

OSS File Photo VL
Graf Luckner – US Intelligence Photo – National Archives

My first military history book I wrote was Cruise of the Sea Eagle.  It was the story of Count Felix Von Luckner who, in WWI, went raiding on the high seas in the three-mastered windjammer.  No, I am not making this shit up.  Von Luckner raided the Atlantic and Pacific – only taking one life in his operations.  His ship was wrecked on an island in the Pacific (cue the Gilligan’s Island theme) and he was captured by New Zealanders, and escaped.  His story is amazing on many levels.  But today, I’d like to focus on one instance in particular – the saving of his hometown, Halle.

 

US National Archives.  Sketches of the Sea Eagle (Seeadler) 

Starboard Gun
US Navy Photo – the wreckage of the Seeadler on Mopelia Island

By WWII, Von Luckner was an old man.  The Nazi’s didn’t want anything to do with him, because he didn’t buy into their ideology.  He was relegated to living in his home town, Halle.

On April 19, 1945, 75 years ago, the US Army came to liberate the town.  It had been spared a lot of carnage and devastation in the war.  The German commander was prepared to slug it out, making the Americans lay waste to the city.  Graf Luckner sneaked through the battle lines and connected with General Terry Allen of the US Army.  Von Luckner acted as an intermediary, negotiating the German surrender of Halle, saving his home town.

Surrender
General Allen with Von Luckner

In doing research for the book, my wife and I went to Halle, which had just emerged from being part of East Germany.  The city was very much as it appeared during WWII.  Much of this is because Von Luckner had spared the city.  Ironically, the East German’s version of events is that the American Army was never there –  that the Russians had liberated the town.  Revisionist history at its worst.

Today being the 75th anniversary of their liberation is special and brings me back to our visit there.  We have some wonderful memories of this beautiful German town and look forward to our return one day.

You can take part in the Von Luckner story by being part of his historical society.  Von Luckner Society

Our Current Pandemic and the Call for the US Military to Step-In – Presenting the US Navy’s War Plan White – May 1946

Neverwars
Gratuitous self-promotion during a time of crisis, or filling people with some reading material?  You make the call

A few years ago I wrote a book about the early US War Plans to invade various countries (Never Wars)

There were a few plans I did not write about.  One was the US/UK plan to invade Ireland during WWII.  I found a lot of it, but not enough to make it meaningful to historians.  Another was War Plan White.  This plan called for the use of the US military on American soil to restore order, put down civil unrest, or respond to a crisis or emergency situation.  The version I found was 1946.

There have been a lot of variations on War Plan White over the decades.  In the 1902 and 1921 striking coal workers threatened to cripple the economy.  There were early drafts, which I never found copies of, during the Anarchist Movement as well.  Likewise the US Army was employed against US citizens during the Bonus Army protests in 1932.

With this COVID-19 pandemic, I have heard cries from the uniformed about the need to deploy the Army in hard hit areas.  As Teddy Roosevelt understood when he was tempted to do so during a miner strike, “The Army doesn’t know how to dig coal.”  Likewise the military, while experts in attacking enemies or defending our country; they are not necessarily the right response to a health care crisis. It isn’t something that the Army is trained for, nor do they have expertise in this area.  That isn’t a knock on the military, but a realization that sending in the military to assist in such matters may not have the intended consequences or results.

Since I had some time on my hands, I found the US Navy’s War Plan White copy that I found at the National Archives and thought I would share it for those interested.  It provides a glimpse of the Navy’s role in such an emergency situation, for those curious about such matters.  I tried to find the Army’s copy of White but was less-than-successful.  For those of you not familiar with the US National Archives, it is often a complicated search for the proverbial needle in a haystack when you look for a specific document.

This 1946 Navy copy of White is an interesting read.  You have to understand, the military, in that post-WWII-era, operated like, well, the military.  That meant that the law, under White, would be executed according to military justice – which is significantly different than civil law. What you also see is the preoccupation to secure Washington DC.

While far from a gripping read, I thought folks might like to see a very old template of what such an effort might look like.  Besides, people have time on their hands, so a little historical reading is probably a bit of a welcome diversion.   No doubt a revised set of White plans is being updated as we speak.  Let that setttle in for a moment.

The lesson with this War Plan is simple:  Be careful what you ask for…

White 1White 2White 3White 4White 5White 6White 7White 9White 8White 10White 11White 12White 13White 14White 15White 16White 17White 18

I apologize for the lousy photography.  Frankly, I’m surprised I didn’t delete these files after I decided not the use them.  Also, page 11 was blank – thus not included.

Review of: Longstreet at Gettysburg: A Critical Reassessment by Cory M. Pfarr

Longstreet

People forget sometimes that I am a military historian on top of writing in other more popular genres.  This book has been nagging me for weeks to read it, so I did and it was not quite what I expected, but proved to be more.  This is an unsolicited review.

Like many people, I have read a lot of books on Gettysburg over the years.  In many there has been an undercurrent of sorts, taking jabs, sometimes less than gentle, at General James Longstreet.  Some historians have laid the failure at Gettysburg at his feet.  I knew the stories all too well.  Longstreet was a Republican and after the war took an active role in the Federal Government.  In his post-war assessments and writings he was candid about Gettysburg and less-than-artfully pointed the finger for some of the blame on General Robert E. Lee.  To many in the south, this was akin to sacrilege.

After the war the mythos of the Lost Cause emerged.  In this, Southerners attempted to deflect that the war had to do with slavery, shifting more to the narrative that it was really about states rights.  There is plenty of foundation for that thinking and I won’t turn this into a states-rights vs. slavery debate because it gives even me a headache at times.  At the same time they tended to iconize the Southern leaders, placing them on pedestals.  They railed against Reconstruction, the Republican Party, and the north.  When I wrote about Bert Hall’s father (In my book, The Bad Boy), I had to study the Confederates that migrated to Mexico to attempt to reform the Confederacy there – so prevalent was this determination to remain sovereign on their part.  There was a certain dignity to it, that the South had been fighting what was a doomed lost cause from the beginning but did so nobly and with honor.

Highest on those pillars of untouchable Southern leaders is Robert E. Lee.  So when Longstreet even hinted that Lee was to blame for the defeat at Gettysburg, he became a pariah amongst his own people.  Former generals lined up to contort history as much as possible to make it look like he was the reason that the Confederacy lost that battle.  Historians that followed often used these heavily slanted accounts to further besmirch Longstreet’s leadership.

Which brings me to this book.  Mr. Pfarr has written something of a unique book on Gettysburg.  Rather than retell the battle minute-by-minute, he raises the critiques of Longstreet by various former officers and historians, and compares them to facts and a cold dose of reality.  Being a true crime author, I love it when someone compares conflicting accounts of events, sometimes from the same person, to show how the telling of events is corrupted and twisted over time.

This is a good solid book, but it is aimed more at scholarly researchers rather than casual readers.  I really enjoyed the opening chapters where you see Longstreet in his later years.  Once you get into the battle itself you don’t get the entire picture of Gettysburg, but rather the points of contention around Longstreet.  Believe me, there was plenty of blame to go around for the failure there, not just with Lee but with other subordinates.

I think Mr. Pfarr, much like a well-organized lawyer, has made a compelling case in support of Longstreet.  He does not claim that the general is perfect by any stretch, but he casts enough doubt to make you want to reconsider Longstreet’s true role and contribution in the battle.  My only real critique about the book is what isn’t there, which is a chapter that really delves into the Lost Cause mythology. I don’t subscribe to the Lost Cause, but there is a lot of fertile ground that would have been great to explore for context.

So, if you like more academic works of military history, this is a must for Civil War reader.  I anxiously await Mr. Pfarr’s next book.

Book Review: The Greatest Knight by Thomas Asbridge

Greatest Knight

When I picked this book up it was on a whim…best whim ever!  This is a historical book but I recommend it to anyone running a fantasy RPG campaign. The book connected with me on a lot of different levels and I was deeply impressed with not only the biography of William Marshal but the masterful way that the author provides the context for the story, without miring the reader down with pointless details.  As an author, I am going to use this book as a guide for my own future writing of non-fiction.

William Marshal served five kings during the medieval era, including Richard the Lionhearted.  He had a role in the Magna Carta and was a behind-the-scenes character throughout that era.  No, that isn’t right.  He was often at the forefront of many changes of power in England and France, but somehow has remained hidden in history.

The opening of the book reminded me of Flashman, starting with an obscure manuscript surfacing at an auction that led to the telling of his tale.  I was hooked in the first three pages!  Marshal is the antithesis of Flashman though, a truly honorable man.  He is the perfect template for a Paladin in D&D.  He moves through history with the ease of Forrest Gump in some respects, having a knack for being at the right place at the right time.  The political waters he somehow managed to navigate were deadly and ever changing, yet he managed to do so with honor and a certain dignity that comes through in the book.

In some respects, it reminded me of Katherine Kurtz’s Camber of Culdi series, which has become the metaphorical basis for my own D&D campaign.  I consider this series of books some of the best fantasy I have read over the years, and The Greatest Knight reminded me to go back and re-read those books.

I found the book captivating because the author did such a great job of giving you the foundation for events in Marshal’s life.  The section on tournaments, for example, really debunks the myth of jousting and is something I could see being incorporated into fantasy RPG’s with ease.  This book has forced me to purchase other books on the historical figures mentioned in it, a testimony as to well it is written. In other words, The Greatest Knight is a gateway drug to an addition to non-fiction history.

I give this five out of five stars.  It is an outstanding piece of literature that has saved Marshal from the dustbin of history!

Review of The Romanovs: The Final Chapter by Robert Massie

Romanov

When I was a kid my mom took me to see the movie Nicholas and Alexandra at the Bijou Theater in Battle Creek, MI.  She knew my love of history and the story fascinated her, especially Rasputin and Anastasia.  At the end of the movie she covered my eyes when the royal family was shot.  For some reason that has always stuck in my head.

Robert Massie is, well, a giant in terms of historical writers.  I actually wore out my copy of Castles of Steel, it is that good. This book falls somewhere between a history book and a true crime saga.  After all, the Romanov family was never tried for crimes, they were brutally murdered.  When I saw this book on my Amazon feed, I knew I had to pick it up.

It starts with the crime itself, which pulls you in.  The strange, if not bizarre treatment of the bodies was compelling as well.  Massie is masterful at giving you the historical context that is do desperately needed to understand the events.

Slowly what emerges is how the bodies were eventually found and recovered, and the impact of the Cold War and petty academics that played a part in identifying the remains.  This was a story that the public knew very little about.

Suddenly the book takes a hard turn into the rumors of the survivors, namely Anastasia.  I was surprised to learn that one woman claiming to be the princess lived out her years near me, in Charlottesville, Virginia.  The courtroom battles over her DNA were long, but entirely necessary.  Having read Massie’s other books, I knew that he was taking me as a reader on a long journey – and that parts of it were convoluted.  I was surprised that there were so many members of the Romanov family that were spared the violence of the Red Revolution.

As a true crime book, this is pretty intriguing to read but you may find the parts on “Anastasia” lacking, since it feels her only crime was lying about who she was.  As a history book, it is outstanding.  This book is solidly researched and well worth picking up.  Five out of five stars.

Now I need to go to the Netflix series, The Last Czars.  Curse you Robert Massie – you are making me explore this more.

Remembering Apollo 11

Apollo
We didn’t do this on a sound stage, we did it live on-location!

Having been born in 1962, the American space program was an important series of events in my life.  In the summer of 1969, we saw the culmination of a great event, man’s landing on the moon and returning to Earth.  It was something that had been ingrained in us as a people.  Every launch was a special event on TV.  Walter Cronkite (and Wally Schirra) took complicated information and fed it to us in a way that every person could understand. We all came to understand the complexities of docking, heat shields, communications lags, etc, as if we were part of the team going to the lunar surface.  Classes were interrupted when Saturn V’s lifted off and when the capsules returned to our planet.  There was a sense, even with us as kids, that this was important and that somehow, we were all a part of it.

There was a whole lot of negative stuff happening around us…Vietnam, peace protests, civil rights marches, a hotly contested Presidential election, hippies, Charles Manson – but cutting through all of that was the space race against the Russians.  America was behind something big, and it was a matter of pride and prestige.  There were detractors who claimed that the money could be better spent elsewhere, but in July of 1969 with the launch of Apollo 11, we rallied as a nation to wish the astronauts well on their perilous journey.

My parents bought Tang, because that was what the astronauts drank.  We sipped it in glasses from the Marathon station that were red-white-and-blue with images of the Apollo missions on them.  My toys included Major Matt Mason, a heroic astronaut action figure.  The space race was everywhere.

I watched the Apollo 11 liftoff from a black and white TV set in my parents non-airconditioned house in Battle Creek, Michigan.  There were only two networks for us, we didn’t get ABC until a year or two later – and you could only get PBS out of Lansing if the weather was right.  You had to adjust the rabbit-ear antenna just right to get a good picture. I was the family remote control for the TV.  That’s how we rolled.

I remember the landing on the moon and the relief that washed over us and over Walter Cronkite when we heard, “Tranquility Base here…the Eagle has landed.”

I, like millions of others, saw the grainy images of man setting foot on the moon. The entire world watched.  Factories stopped production so workers could see it happen live.   Humanity had a singular positive focus for one of the few times in my life.  It was incredible to experience.

When that flag was planted on the moon we knew that we had beat the Russians.  This was a triumph for all Americans.

I remember wanting to be an astronaut when I grew up.  That was what the space program did – it inspired people.  As I grew older I realized with my eyesight and lack of other qualifications, I would never get a chance to fly in space.  I didn’t have the right stuff.  I accepted that and owned it.  As the years passed I found my own way to get into space, by writing science fiction.  With my words, I traveled to hundreds of planets.  Determination always wins out.  While I will never wear a NASA patch (or StarFleet) on my sleeve, I have gone far as a writer because of our space program. I have never forgotten what drove me.

Looking back I know that the landing on the moon was not just about beating the Soviets – it was about having a single purpose as a nation.  It wasn’t about moon rocks, but about retooling of our nation to be a technological powerhouse.  It provided countless jobs in new and exciting fields.  It was America at its best when we were coping sociologically with incredible problems and turmoil.

Now that we look back at five decades past and the accomplishment there, that sense of pride has surged forward.  Space has brought us many triumphs and some gut-wrenching tragedies.  We let the momentum of our landing on the moon slip through our fingers.  Mars seems further away than ever.

In my later years, when I wrote, Terror of the Autumn Skies, I wrote Neil Armstrong.  In one biography he said that in his youth, he admired the subject of my book, Frank Luke Jr.  I was hoping to get a quote from him about Luke.  His secretary wrote me a nice letter back saying that Mr. Armstrong did not give quotes but appreciated my request and looked forward to my book.  He was a class act.  It was a rejection that makes me smile in memory, even to this day.

When my kids got older, we watched HBO’s, From the Earth to the Moon.  My daughter Victoria loved the Apollo 12 episode.  I reached out to astronaut Al Bean and he sent her an autographed photo.  She still has it framed.  Even decades after their missions, these men continued to inspire future generations to look into the blackness of space and wonder what is out there, and when will we go and find out.

Today that feeling of pride in our country we all had then would be labeled as, “dangerous nationalism.”  There would be factions in our society that would be upset that we didn’t have a diverse enough crew on the flight or in mission control.  The planting of the American flag couldn’t be allowed in our present-day culture.  They would even ban the ticker-tape parades because they are not very environmentally conscious.  We couldn’t spend the money on the program because our elected representatives would want to spend it elsewhere. Can you imagine Congress aligning to a single goal for a decade?

Some would say that this new thinking is progressive, that it is better.  As someone who experienced the landing on the moon from a tiny, hot living room in Michigan, I can tell you that such thinking is wrong.  There is something to be said about being proud about your country and what it can accomplish when we work together towards a common goal.  Those that claim that having pride in your nation is inherently wrong or evil; they cannot take from me what I experienced and felt in that summer of 1969.  A part of me wishes to feel that again in my lifetime, but as the years pass I feel it, like our voyages to space, becoming rare, commercialized, and ploddingly slow.  For those of you that were not able to experience the moon landing, I feel for what you have been denied.

Finally, thank you Neil, Mike and Buzz.  You, and the tens of thousands of men and women involved in flight successful brought us together for something positive, challenging, and inspirational.  We will never forget the great risks you took and the indelible ink you wrote on the pages of mankind’s history.