Thursday, May 5, 2011


I just read that Alan Shepard, the first American in space flew just 50 years ago and it reminded me of the second time I met him.

The year I turned 16, my parents took me to a friend’s New Years Day open house. I was hanging with their 15-year-old grandson in the “game room”. They had a pinball machine and a few other games to play while the adults did whatever adults did at a New Years Day party.

During the day, my friend’s uncle showed up and we cornered him to talk about his experiences as a Navy test pilot, he was the first to land a Phantom on an aircraft carrier. At one point, my father and the host came to rescue this guy from the kids and let him get back to the adults at the party.

While getting this poor guy away from us, my father happened to see a picture of the host in uniform in front of a world war one biplane and asked about it, The host told us that he had indeed flown in World War I as a fighter pilot.

Were we were in his game room talking to Phil Brewer and his son-in-law Alan Shepard! Image how I felt a few weeks later when Shepard flew the very first space shot!

When we watched the launching in class on live TV, I claimed to have met him and the teacher called my mother (later in the evening) to find out if I was telling the truth. That’s how much celebrity the first astronauts were in their time. Claiming to have just met one was automatically questioned.

What I mostly remember of that brief meeting was how kind and generous Shepard was to two young hero worshipers. As I remember 50 years later, he spent close to 45 minutes talking to us about the astronaut program and his personal experiences. In fact, this many years later, I really only remember that it happened and no details about the conversations, but I still remember his kindness to his nephew and a family friend.

The other thing I remember is being amazed, even at 16, at meeting two men, the older who flew the first fighter planes and the younger the first rocket ship!

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