As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the landing on the moon, Oklahomans should know that a young man who was born in Okemah, Oklahoma and grew up in Sand Springs was on the support crew for Apollo 11. The support crew maintained the flight plan, checklists and developed procedures for emergency situations for the prime and backup crews. The support crew consisted of Ken Mattingly, Ronald Evans and Bill Pogue. Bill Pogue was ten years old while standing in an Oklahoma cotton field when he observed a DC-2 fly over and at that moment he “got the urge to be a pilot”.
Of course, the prime crew for Apollo 11 consisted of the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, along with Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin.
In chapter nine of our oral history interview with Bill Pogue, Bill talked about his relationship with Neil Armstrong:
BP: He’s quiet. He’s smart. Really competent. We shared a back fence near the space center. Our houses backed up to each other. He is very interesting to work with. We would go home every weekend. I would usually drive my Beetle.
JE: Your Volkswagen.
BP: Yes. Leave it at Ellington when we flew down to the Cape. And then I’d take him home. And he was under a lot of pressure.
JE: What kind of pressure?
BP: The pressure of the importance of the mission.
JE: You’re talking about before he had actually landed on the moon.
BP: That’s right.
JE: The lead-up to it.
BP: Correct. We would be flying along and he said, “Do you know what the zodiacal light is?” and I said, “Haven’t the foggiest idea.” He says, “I’ll show you.” So, he did. He talked me through it and showed me the zodiacal light. That took about a half an hour just to go through that. It was about an hour and a half flight from Florida back to Texas.
JE: What is a zodiacal light?
BP: It is a light—you can see it right after sunset. The sun is still right below the horizon, but the light from the sun is going past the earth and there’s dust here and there. The dust captures the light. When you can see that, that’s called zodiacal light.
JE: You were around him right up to the day he performed the landing on the moon. He felt tremendous pressure, as you talked about.
BP: Yeah, he did.
JE: Where were you when he landed on the moon?
BP: I was at mission control.
JE: And you experienced the elation, then, in mission control.
JE: When that was all happening.
BP: Yes. Then I went home to watch the EVA’s—the space walk.
JE: Did you talk to him personally after this about his experience being on the moon?
BP: No, I did not. They sent him to NASA headquarters as soon as they got through with the debriefing, maybe a couple of months or something like that. And he—he was made to feel like a captured trained ape. The only time I really had much to do with him, I had put a package together using Apollo photographs and he wanted to use it. They were resources-type stuff. I sent him the whole package, he used it, and then he called me up and thanked me. I won’t say he was distant, but he knew that he occupied a historical position in the space program.
JE: As a public, we never saw him come out and be a personality, so that matches what you’re saying about him. When you were with him prior to the moon launch, was it real obvious—wow, I understand why they selected him for this?
BP: Yes. He had it. The right stuff.
You can hear Bill’s story from his days in Sand Springs, to a combat tour in Korea, his life with the Thunderbirds and his selection to be on the support crews for Apollo 7, 11, and 14. Listen here. Also available as a podcast here.
Share this story with family, friends, and especially teachers so they can use Bill’s story in their classrooms.
Record your history…You will be glad you did.