John Shearer: Random Thoughts About Apollo 10, A Last Meal, Morehouse, The PGA, And A Riderless Horse

Monday, May 20, 2019

Several items in the news recently caught my eye.


Reading about the Apollo 10 mission that took place exactly 50 years ago gave me a good feeling.


While I vividly remember as a 9-year-old watching – and being mesmerized by – the Apollo 11 moon landing in July 1969, I must confess I remember virtually nothing about Apollo 10.

Nor had I thought anything about it until reading the 50th anniversary stories, although I do remember the modules named Snoopy and Charlie Brown that this mission had.


While Apollo 11 was a mission of glory, the Apollo 10 one could be summed up under the theme of leading the way for others. On May 18, 1969, Thomas Stafford, John Young and Eugene Cernan lifted off from Florida simply to make sure all the equipment and procedures were in order for the scheduled Apollo 11 moon landing and walk two months later.


Although they came within a few thousand feet of the moon’s surface, they were not to land. And just in case these bold pioneers were tempted, they were not given enough fuel to make it there!


Mr. Cernan and Mr. Stafford had flown close to the moon in the lunar module, Snoopy, while Mr. Young commanded the command module, Charlie Brown, that later picked them up and helped bring them all back safely to Earth on May 26.


It was considered a very important mission in helping Apollo 11 successfully land on the moon a few weeks later.


In many ways, that mission was a symbolism for leading the way for others. How many times in our lives are we asked to make a path clearer or smoother for others in some kind of behind-the-scenes way?


Or even more nobly, how many people do you know who have volunteered on their own to make lives easier or better for others?


While the Apollo 10 crew members are not quite the household names to an average person today like the Apollo 11 team of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, they did get rewarded by NASA.


Each one was allowed to take part in future important space flights. Mr. Young commanded the Apollo 16 moon mission, Mr. Cernan commanded the last moon flight to date aboard Apollo 17, and Mr. Young took part in the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.


And speaking of trying to make lives easier and better for others, this was demonstrated in two entirely different ways recently.


Death row inmate Donnie Johnson, who was charged with killing his wife Connie, in 1984 in Memphis by stuffing a trash bag down her throat, decided to forsake a last good meal Thursday to help the homeless. Following on the heels of a previous death row inmate, he asked that similarly valued help be given the downtrodden rather than having a special meal valued at up to $20 prepared for him.


While his crime was horrific and he was serving time for it on death row, he had become a Seventh-day Adventist elder behind bars and a model prisoner. This was apparently one final attempt by him to show a life of redemption.


What would you want for your last meal? Would you order it and then give it to someone else?


While that was a small gesture by a man who knew he did wrong, Morehouse College commencement speaker Robert Smith tried to help others in a very big way through the good he has been able to accomplish in his life.


Although the billionaire technology investor and philanthropist already planned to make a $1.5 million gift to the school, he surprised the nearly 400 Atlanta college graduates Sunday by announcing he was paying off their entire college loan debt. That is estimated at $40 million.


His only requirement in return was simply that they pay the gift forward in some way by helping others as well.


A native Coloradan who now lives in Austin, Texas, he was reportedly carried as an infant in his mother’s arms while she attended the “March on Washington” in 1963 and heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.


He became a chemical engineer before starting a private equity and investment firm in 2000 and is now considered perhaps the richest black American.


His gesture started me thinking what I would do if I had millions to donate to charity. I would probably use at least some of it to buy up undeveloped lands to turn into public greenways for passive recreation for all.


What would you do with all that money?


The world of sports also had a few interesting events that, while not quite as uplifting, did cause me to take notice. One was in a humorous way, while the other I am shaking my head over.


The PGA Championship – one of pro golf’s four major tournaments -- was moved to May this year after being in August for years. For golf traditionalists like me, that felt a little awkward, kind of like Christmas in July or the Indy 500 being moved from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day.


Apparently, the move is here to stay. Officials say it allows more attention to be thrust on the PGA tournament this early in the season while golf season is still fresh, and that the tour can finish up its FedEx Cup competition before football season gets going.


I personally had a little trouble getting used to watching the PGA knowing that the golf season will be over for major championships in July with the British Open. It is like college football’s regular season being over by Halloween.


But I do remember as a child in 1971 when the PGA was played in February and Jack Nicklaus won it, so I guess I can handle it.


Speaking of getting used to something, I was at first saddened over the disqualification of Maximum Security in the Kentucky Derby and the health issues of eventual winner Country House that prevented him from running in the Preakness.


Because the Kentucky Derby winner was missing the Baltimore race for the first time since 1996, there was no chance of a Triple Crown winner after horseracing fans had been treated to the rare feat two of the last four years.


As a result, watching the race seemed like it would be about as fun as watching the consolation game in a high school basketball tournament. But you know what? It turned out to be pretty exciting, or at least entertaining.


And it was mainly due to one horse – Bodexpress. Although War of Will won and gave his jockey, trainer and owner some sense of satisfaction after Maximum Security impeded his path in the Derby, my eyes ended up being on Bodexpress.


In what could be described as the “Game of Throws,” jockey John Velazquez got knocked off the bucking horse at the start of the race, resulting in automatic disqualification. But that did not stop the spirited thoroughbred.


In fact, the animal ran, not one, but two laps. In an unusual scene for a Triple Crown race, he kept running without the jockey, who was thankfully not injured.  Not even a race worker on a horse could corral him.


He actually managed to finish ahead of two other horses with jockeys, leading this casual horseracing fan to ask how important a role do jockeys play.


Although it was obviously good the riderless horse did not get injured or bother the other horses, I had to admire his spirit. He was literally a rebel without a jockey.


The free-spirited animal was also like a four-legged Frank Sinatra wanting to do things his way.


Haven’t you sometimes felt that way, too?

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