USS Hornet celebrates Apollo 11 landing

July 24, 2009 7:19:39 PM PDT
Today is the 40th anniversary of when the Apollo 11 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. It was a triumphant return after the first moon landing.

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The USS Hornet, now a museum in Alameda, played a critical role. It's hosting a festival today through Sunday celebrating the splashdown, and the second man to walk on the moon is making a special appearance

The USS Hornet Museum qualifies as one very large historical artifact. Some days loom larger than others, and this would be one of them.

"Oh it's just a little 15 minutes of fame," said Bill Wasson

"It was definitely a major moment in my life," said Bruce Johnson.

"Never, never, absolutely not," said Don Blair when asked if he ever covered a bigger story in his life.

Blair used to be a radio reporter, Johnson was a helicopter pilot and Wasson an officer who were on the Hornet on this day 40 years ago when Apollo 11 shot a perfect trajectory from the moon to earth and the Hornet had the honor of retrieving it.

Aboard Helicopter 66, then Lt. Johnson saw more than that. He had astronauts in his back seat and flew them back to the Hornet, where Wasson waited on the bridge, as officer of the deck.

"As I stepped off, I looked back and an astronaut who was in the back seat gave me the thumbs up, and I gave him one as I went out the door," said Lt. Johnson.

When the astronauts landed back on the Hornet, they moved from the helicopeter to an isolation trailer where they stayed for 21 days. NASA was worried about moon germs, but Blair took an interesting picture on the first night of Neil Armstrong playing the ukulele.

"I thought he was playing fly me to the moon, but he didn't know how to play. He was relaxing with a ukulele," said Blair.

It was a private moment for a man the Hornet plucked from the drink, drink, drink.

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USS Hornet

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