In our last blog post, my brother Chuck recalled a very personal experience from his time at the Normandy Cemetery in France during his tenure with the American Battle Monuments Commission. I remember how proud I was of my “little brother” for taking that important posting in France. His primary mission was to preserve and protect the resting place of so many of our magnificent heroes of D-Day in June, 1944.
This was an extremely important task. One thing we have agreed upon as a nation is that it’s vital for current and future generations of Americans to understand and memorialize what we have sacrificed through nearly 240 years to retain our union. As a retired soldier, both this unwritten but solemnly honored agreement and Chuck’s work have been sources of great satisfaction to me.
We’ll occasionally share intimate thoughts via individual posts that are distinct to our personal experiences about America and the American Promise. In this post, I’ll share insights on my visit this week to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, with my friend Walt Natemeyer. Even though I have visited NASA and the JSC several times in the past, never have I been more proud to be an American and a member of the American Center than I was after this visit.
Chuck wrote of the dedication and heroic sacrifices of our military, specifically in 1944, to maintain the momentum of the American experiment. I want to briefly talk about the dedication and sacrifices of a similarly motivated group of Americans 25 years later. These Americans took us to the moon and demonstrated how magnificent and yes, exceptional, America and Americans have been. Some at NASA were military but most were not, representing the finest scientific and engineering minds the world has ever known; all of them characterized the greatness of America, regardless of political leanings.
As I walked through the NASA JSC campus with Walt this week, first visiting the Saturn V rocket and Apollo mission museum, we talked about the greatness of America in those years leading up to 1969 when America planted her flag on the moon. Walt knew several of the Apollo astronauts, having worked at JSC for over 40 years. We couldn’t help reflecting how much commitment and sacrifice was required to achieve President John F. Kennedy’s challenge in 1961 to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade and bring him back safely. What an America!
Walt and I then met Paul Hill, Director of Mission Operations for JSC, for a tour of the Mission Control Center. We visited the original MCC where so many missions were flown, including Gemini, Apollo and even some of the Shuttle flights. We saw memorials to the Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia crews. I chatted briefly with Paul and Walt about the incredible sacrifices all of these brave men and women made during these programs to keep America on the forefront of discovery and freedom.
For more than 50 years, NASA has been at the pinnacle of providing unique opportunities to serve America and indeed all humanity with science, engineering and even social advances. NASA, and JSC in particular, bridged political and cultural divides to bring people together from many backgrounds, nations and cultures to enable America to push further against the ever-receding “limits” of humanity. NASA was and still is one of the greatest investments, with the greatest returns, this nation has ever made.
Leaving the JSC at the end of our tour, I felt pulled by the past, present and future of American sacrifice and achievement. We know what’s possible when we set aside political extremism and hone our sights on getting things done on behalf of the great people of America. We know how to ramp up leadership in the scientific, technical and social arenas to marshal our resources to greatness. We know how to resolve and to overcome all challenges to succeed in “doing the impossible.” What took place at the JSC (and still does) is proof of that.
As Walt and I drove away from the Johnson Space Center, we thought about the crews of Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia. In my mind I compared them to the soldiers buried in Normandy and indeed all of those who have given their lives in service to an America that first and foremost stood for freedom and opportunity. I thought about how proud I’ve been of an America that can accomplish so much in both war and peace to preserve opportunity through a meaningful balance of freedom and security: the very essence of the American Promise.
As Walt and I chatted, I asked “where is that balanced America today? Why aren’t we holding up organizations like NASA and promoting their accomplishments as examples of how great America still is?” Neither of us had a good answer, but we did agree that political divisiveness is a real problem in getting our nation back on track and reenergizing America to greatness. Only the American Center can make that happen.
There are several efforts going on today to re-secure the American Center and position it at its rightful place as the most influential factor in American policy, politics and culture. The efforts of Fulfilling the American Promise in the Connected Age compose just one minor part of this work. Chuck and I ask our readers to search out these other initiatives and synergize your thoughts with theirs and ours. Then, please take a balanced approach to assessing candidates for office in upcoming elections and support the American Center by voting for these best candidates.
If the soldiers at Normandy and so many other American battlefields can make the sacrifices they did, we can take the time to consider the future of America and the American Center through assessing and supporting good candidates for office. If the engineers and scientists of NASA and so many other great American institutions can give so much to keeping America great, we can take the time to vote and support the American Center. Our heroes gave and still give for us…it’s way past time to give back to them.
Originally posted by Carl Hunt, 3/21/2014.
Editor’s Note: From time to time, we will post pieces that reflect deeply personal experiences that demonstrate why we feel it is so important to take on the effort embodied by Fulfilling the American Promise in the Connected Age. This post is one of those pieces. The comments in this post specifically discuss the author’s perspectives and are not intended to convey those of any organization with which he is affiliated. Also, many thanks to Walt Natemeyer for his review of this post and for the introductions to the NASA JSC team.