The Right Stuff

Army WW II Biplane Trainer

It has been fifty years since the first American, John Glenn, orbited the earth. His spaceship, Friendship 7, was built here in Saint Louis. When I first moved to Saint Louis, I was a still wet behind the ears, young pup. Merle, one of the older engineers at that time, took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. Merle enjoyed our social interaction, not to put too fine a point on it, he liked to talk. One of the things that he loved to talk about most was his involvement in the space program, in particular, the Mercury space program. His face would always light up, when he spoke of the day when President Kennedy came to visit the plant. There is an old photo from that day that shows old Mac, the company president, driving Kennedy around, the sense of pride self-evident upon his face. Merle worked in flight simulation, so he worked shoulder-to-shoulder with the astronauts, training them for their space flights. He never said anything bad about any of the Mercury astronauts, but you could tell that he had his favorites and those that he didn’t really care for. One that he always spoke highly of was John Glenn.

The genesis of this post has been mulling in my brain for several weeks now. It all started with a biopic that I saw on Netflix, “The Legend of Pancho Barnes”. In the movie and book, “The Right Stuff”, the character of Pancho Barnes and her Happy Bottom Riding Club make a cameo debut. They appear as part of the Edwards, breaking the sound barrier, prelude to the history of the Mercury space program. Pancho Barnes, born Florence Barnes, was a pioneer aviatrix, one of the original amazons on the air. She raced Amelia Earhart, flew for Howard Hughes in his movie “Hells Angels”, then organized the rest of the pilots, for more pay and had a mouth on her that would make a Marine sergeant blanch. Pancho Barnes once asked, “Why use a 5 letter word, when a 4 letter one will do?” She got the nickname Pancho, because she once ran away from her husband, to Mexico. A revolution broke out, and she got stuck there for a while. She eventually obtained a divorce from her minister husband, by riding Lady Godiva style, bareback, into his Sunday service. When she retired from flying, she opened Happy Bottom. Never a beauty herself, she hired the prettiest waitresses, “sugar to catch flyboys”.

What really brought this post home, was a retirement party, at work today. John, also-known-as “The Bogs”, retired after 42+ years. So you might call this post, a Bogs post, instead of a blog post. I haven’t worked with John for over ten years, but I treasure the opportunity that I had to work with him and I appreciate the way he treated me. He kept in touch over the years, sometimes asking be about things that I had not worked on for decades. A recent chapter in his life involved the illness and death of his wife. He spoke movingly about this and reminded me of my father and mother’s similar struggle. John is trying to move on from his wife’s death and made light of some of the antics that he has encountered, as he tries to live his life now, day-by-day.

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