Fifty years ago on Christmas Eve, a tumultuous year of assassinations, riots and war drew to a close in heroic and hopeful fashion with the three Apollo 8 astronauts reading from the Book of Genesis on live TV as they orbited the moon.
To this day, that 1968 mission is considered to be NASA’s boldest and perhaps most dangerous undertaking. That first voyage by humans to another world set the stage for the still grander Apollo 11 moon landing seven months later.
There was unprecedented and unfathomable risk to putting three men atop a monstrous new rocket for the first time and sending them all the way to the moon. The mission was whipped together in just four months in order to reach the moon by year’s end, before the Soviet Union.
There was the Old Testament reading by commander Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders.
Lastly, there was the photo named “Earthrise,” showing our blue and white ball — humanity’s home — rising above the bleak, gray lunar landscape and 240,000 miles (386 million kilometers) in the distance.
Humans had never set eyes on the far side of the moon, or on our planet as a cosmic oasis, surrounded completely by the black void of space. A half-century later, only 24 U.S. astronauts who flew to the moon have witnessed these wondrous sights in person.
The Apollo 8 crew is still around: Borman and Lovell are 90, Anders is 85.
To Lovell, the journey had the thrill and romance of true exploration, and provided an uplifting cap for Americans to a painful, contentious year marked by the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, nationwide riots and protests of the Vietnam War.
The mission’s impact was perhaps best summed up in a four-word telegram received by Borman. “Thanks, you saved 1968.”
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine — who at age 43 missed Apollo — marvels over the gutsy decision in August that year to launch astronauts to the moon in four months’ time. He’s pushing for a return to the moon, but with real sustainability this next go-around.
The space agency flipped missions and decided that instead of orbiting Earth, Borman and his crew would fly to the moon to beat the Soviets and pave the way for the lunar landings to come. And that was despite on its previous test flight, the Saturn V rocket lost parts and engines failed.
“Even more worrisome than all of this,” Bridenstine noted earlier this month, Apollo 8 would be in orbit around the moon on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. “In other words, if there was a failure here, it would wreck Christmas not only for everybody in the United States, but for everybody in the world.”
As that first moon shot neared, Borman’s wife, Susan, demanded to know the crew’s chances. A NASA director answered: 50-50.
Borman wanted to get to the moon and get back fast. In his mind, a single lap around the moon would suffice. His bosses insisted on more.
“My main concern in this whole flight was to get there ahead of the Russians and get home. That was a significant achievement in my eyes,” Borman explained at the Chicago launch of the book “Rocket Men” last spring.
Everyone eventually agreed: Ten orbits it would be.
Liftoff of the Saturn V occurred on the morning of Saturday, Dec. 21, 1968.
On Christmas Eve, the spaceship successfully slipped into orbit around the moon. Before bedtime, the first envoys to another world took turns reading the first 10 verses from Genesis. It had been left to Borman, before the flight, to find “something appropriate” to say for what was expected to be the biggest broadcast audience to date.
“We all tried for quite a while to figure out something, and it all came up trite or foolish,” Borman recalled. Finally, the wife of a friend of a friend came up with the idea of Genesis.
“In the beginning,” Anders read, “God created the heaven and the Earth ...”
Borman ended the broadcast with, “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you — all of you on the good Earth.”
On Christmas morning, their spacecraft went around the moon for the final time. The engine firing needed to shoot them back to Earth occurred while the capsule was out of communication with Mission Control in Houston. Lovell broke the nervous silence as the ship reappeared: “Please be informed there is a Santa Claus.”
Back in Houston, meanwhile, a limousine driver knocked on Marilyn Lovell’s door and handed her a gift-wrapped mink stole with a card that read: “To Marilyn, Merry Christmas from the man in the moon.” Lovell bought the coat for his wife and arranged its fancy delivery before liftoff.
Splashdown occurred in the pre-dawn darkness on Dec. 27, bringing the incredible six-day journey to a close. Time magazine named the three astronauts “Men of the Year.”
It wasn’t until after the astronauts were back that the significance of their Earth pictures sank in.
Anders snapped the iconic Earthrise photo during the crew’s fourth orbit of the moon, frantically switching from black-and-white to color film to capture the planet’s exquisite, fragile beauty.
“Oh my God, look at that picture over there!” Anders said. “There’s the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty!”
Before the flight, no one had thought about photographing Earth, according to Anders. The astronauts were under orders to get pictures for potential lunar landing sites while orbiting 70 miles (112 kilometers) above the moon.
“We came to explore the moon and what we discovered was the Earth,” Anders is fond of saying.
His Earthrise photo is a pillar of today’s environmental movement. It remains a legacy of Apollo and humanity’s achievement, said professor emeritus John Logsdon of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute, forever underscoring the absence of political borders as seen from space.
Anders wondered then — and now — “This is not a very big place, why can’t we get along?”
Lovell remains awestruck by the fact he could hide all of Earth behind his thumb.
“Over 3 billion people, mountains, oceans, deserts, everything I ever knew was behind my thumb,” he recalled at a recent anniversary celebration at Washington’s National Cathedral.
Astronaut-artist Nicole Stott said the golden anniversary provides an opportunity to reintroduce the world to Earthrise. She and three other former space travelers are holding a celebration at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Friday, 50 years to the day Apollo 8 launched.
“That one image, I think, it just gives us the who and where we are in the universe so beautifully,” she said.
By July 1969, Apollo 8 was overshadowed by Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin moon landing. But without Apollo 8, noted George Washington’s Logsdon, NASA likely would not have met President John F. Kennedy’s deadline of putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade.
Borman and Anders never flew in space again, and Soviet cosmonauts never made it to the moon.
Lovell went on to command the ill-fated Apollo 13 — “but that’s another story.” That flight was the most demanding, he said, “But Apollo 8 was the one of exploration, the one of repeating the Lewis and Clark expedition ... finding the new Earth.”
Boiling Springs senior Jack Still enjoys math, and it figures into his plans for the future, but don’t expect to see him locked away in a room nerding out to a calculus problem.
Still, the son of Jonathan and Jennifer Still, said athletics has been a major part of his high school experience, especially diving. Last year, he was the District 3 Class 2A diving champion, and finished fourth at the PIAA state championships.
Still said he would like to continue diving in college.
He was also a captain for the cross-country team, a role in which Still said he tried to get to know most of the people on the team while attending all team gatherings and cheering on his teammates at the meets.
“It was a really great experience just trying to do the best that I could do and also try to provide a model or example of how to work hard and stay determined,” he said.
Still took that supportive and encouraging nature along to Camp PALS, a summer camp devoted to bringing young people with Down syndrome together.
During the week, Still buddied up with a camper for games, a formal dance, movie night, a carnival, a visit to a water park, karaoke and a lot of time to simply hang out together. With counselors getting up at 7:30 a.m. and not getting to bed until after midnight, it made for an exhausting week that Still called “an amazing experience.”
“It was one of the best weeks of my life. The whole atmosphere was supportive and fun,” he said.
Still is waiting to hear from his top college choices of Bucknell University, Lehigh University and Loyola University of Maryland, but he knows he wants to have a major that involves math with the intention of using that knowledge as a foundation for a career in the finance or actuarial fields.
“I’d really like to use my love for math, numbers and calculations in a way that can impact pretty much everybody,” he said.
That’s what makes teaching personal finance of such interest to Still. Everyday math as it relates to personal finances goes far beyond calculating a percentage off at a sale. It includes budgeting, careful use of credit and other skills that add up over time, Still said.
“It’s things that a lot of people don’t know but they definitely should. It’s not that difficult once you get the concept of it down. You just have to be told how to go about doing it,” he said.
Through his internship at Sadler Health Center, he has been able to see how finance-related skills, like budgeting, affect people. At the internship, he helps process discount applications by calculating average paychecks to see where it falls on the poverty scale to determine what the client’s discount would be.
“I get to see firsthand how some people are struggling, and that’s something that fuels me to pursue that avenue,” he said.
He has also put his finance skills to the test through an investment club at St. John’s church. The club initially used money from the church to invest, trying to grow their investment.
“At the end of the year, we take some of our profits and give them away to charity,” Still said.
The club has a focus on personal finance and preparing its participants for the future.
Don McClarren is separated from the infamous “bridge of no return” at Panmunjom on the North Korea-South Korea border by half the globe, and half a century.
But he still remembers that day—Dec. 23, 1968—quite vividly.
“They told us when we got off the bus to not do anything stupid or they’d arrest us again,” McClarren recalled. “We were told to just walk straight across the bridge and not look back. It wasn’t until we were on the bus on the South Korean side that I was really sure.”
Sunday marked the 50th anniversary of the release of the crew of the USS Pueblo from North Korean captivity, one of a series of crises in 1968 that threatened to turn the Cold War into a full blown third world war.
McClarren, now age 83, estimates that he’s one of about 60 still-living members of the crew. On Sunday, dozens of McClarren’s friends and family gathered at the Citizens Fire Company No. 1 station near Boiling Springs to celebrate his freedom from captivity.
“I’m still here to celebrate it. I’m grateful,” McClarren said.
If not for his family and friends—particularly those at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post—organizing the party, many in the community might not even know McClarren is there.
Originally from Johnstown, McClarren spent most of his life after 1968 in Michigan, where he raised his daughter, Nina Klinger. He moved to Boiling Springs in 2012.
McClarren was humble and never particularly eager to talk about the details of his ordeal, Klinger said. It wasn’t until she was in 7th grade that her father received an award that keyed her in to the story. She later read the book by Lloyd Bucher, the Pueblo’s commander, detailing the incident.
“It wasn’t until then that I really started to understand,” Klinger said. “I just started asking questions and he was very forthcoming.”
On Jan. 23, 1968, North Korean warships intercepted the USS Pueblo off the North Korean coast. The Pueblo was an intelligence ship, outfitted with radio and radar equipment to intercept any communications coming in or out of North Korea.
North Korean authorities claimed that the Pueblo had come into their sovereign waters, within 12 miles of the North Korean coast. But the Pueblo’s charts showed it 16 miles out, four miles into international waters.
Even when the North Koreans first approached, McClarren said, the crew was not particularly alarmed. North Korean vessels often harassed NATO ships that got within a few miles of the maritime boundary line.
Then the gunfire started. But even after the North Koreans boarded the vessel, McClarren said, the crew still assumed the North Koreans were just trying to make a show of force.
“Even when they came aboard, we thought we were going to get slapped around for a little while and they’d go back to Wonsan [a North Korean port],” McClarren said. “They went back to Wonsan, but they took us with them.”
After the incident, the U.S. response was widely criticized—a later Congressional report noted that no ships or planes had been sent from the closest bases in Japan. Planes were sent from the U.S. airbase in Okinawa, but had to stop to refuel in South Korea, by which time the Pueblo had already been towed back to Wonsan.
“We thought when we notified Japan that we were under fire, that we would get some help, but it didn’t happen,” McClarren said.
In recent years, the Pueblo’s crewmen have spoken with veterans from other ships and airbases in the area at the time, McClarren said.
“They were ready to come over and intercept us, but were told to stay where they were at,” McClarren said.
Thus began an 11-month odyssey. The first 40 days were the worst, McClarren said. The sailors weren’t allowed to bathe, or given new clothing—they sat in cells in their uniforms, which were caked with blood, urine and feces.
“We were so rank that even the guards started to wear these masks, and I think they figured out they had to do something if they wanted to keep us alive,” McClarren said.
In the early weeks of their captivity, there was a distinct possibility that things could boil over.
A few days before the Pueblo incident, North Korean commandos had infiltrated into Seoul and launched a near-successful attack on the South Korean president’s mansion. Skirmishes along the 38th parallel were increasingly common.
A week after the Pueblo incident, the Tet Offensive began in Vietnam, knocking U.S. forces on their heels against coordinated attacks by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces. The Prague Spring uprisings had begun in Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia, threatening open warfare in Eastern Europe.
U.S. military records indicate that attack plans against North Korea—including nuclear options—existed, but were ultimately decided against by President Lyndon Johnson.
“After a couple months, we pretty much figured out they were just going to negotiate for us and it was just a matter of time,” McClarren said. “That’s how you kept yourself sane.”
Once it became clear that escalation had been averted, and the crew were to be used as a bargaining chip, conditions improved slightly, McClarren said. The men were given new clothes and allowed bucket baths one per week.
But regular beatings—typically with rifle butts—continued, as did psychological torture tactics. North Korean guards often pressed guns to the heads of McClarren and other captives and pulled the trigger—but the guns were never loaded.
One of the Pueblo’s 83 crewmen died shortly after the initial attack at sea, McClarren said. Others were wounded, and eventually received rudimentary—but brutal—medical treatment.
One crewman had been struck by a shell in the groin, McClarren recalled. He was operated on by North Korean surgeons without anesthetic, including the partial amputation of his genitals. Another had shrapnel pried out of his legs, again without painkillers.
“You put yourself in a frame of mind that you may not come out of this, and that’s how you cope,” McClarren said.
The captive crew were also forced to sign false confessions that they had come inside North Korea’s 12-mile maritime boundary, even though they were certain they had not, McClarren said. In the end, the U.S. government itself would be forced to sign one too, in order to secure the crew’s release.
They were also subject to constant propaganda films, and were paraded in front of cameras for North Koreans to abuse.
In 1968, many Americans were still unaware of the massive bombing campaign the United States had carried out against North Korea during the 1950-1953 war. By the own estimation of the U.S. Strategic Air Command, American bombers had wiped out a fifth of North Korea’s entire population, and about 85 percent of its buildings.
The suffering during the war features heavily in North Korean propaganda, even today, and meant that many North Koreans viewed their captives with personal vendettas.
“Even to this day, they’re still fighting that war,” McClarren said.
He still watches North Korean propaganda films in documentaries and reports, and the only difference is that the city of Pyongyang has grown. Otherwise, McClarren said, the message is the same today as it was in 1968.
After 11 months of captivity, it was difficult to believe that he was actually going home, McClarren said.
“We were told many times that we were going home soon,” McClarren said. “It got to be old stuff. You take it with a grain of salt.”
Even today, the crew’s resolution is limited. No peace was ever signed, meaning the Korean War is still technically ongoing, even after the 1953 armistice that ended most of the fighting. The USS Pueblo itself is still in North Korean hands, moored along the Potong River in Pyongyang and used as a museum, the only commissioned U.S. Navy ship to still be held captive by enemy forces.
Still, McClarren said, he watches the news hoping for reconciliation between the two Koreas.
“I think it would be nice—maybe not for their governments, but certainly for their people,” he said.
Representatives of Advanced Disposal met Monday with officials of Southampton Township and Newville Borough to discuss concerns related to their trash collection contract.
The meeting was in response to a letter from Marcus A. McKnight III, of Irwin & McKnight, solicitor for the Western Cumberland Council of Governments.
WCCOG is comprised of 15 municipalities; eight are part of a contract between Advanced Disposal and Southampton Township, while some contract independently with Advanced Disposal.
Municipalities that are part of the contract with Southampton Township are Shippensburg, South Newton, Penn, Cooke, West Pennsboro and North Newton townships, and Newville Borough.
According to the letter, there has been a “significant decline in the level of service pursuant to your contracts” and as an example lists “delays in trash and recycling pickups which are not weather related.” It additionally mentions a spill of hydraulic fluid from a truck that had broken down in Newville Borough.
Delays have been the source of frustration in other municipalities, including Carlisle and South Middleton Township, who have contracts with Advanced Disposal.
In response to the letter, Southampton Township Supervisor Scott Mack said he has received just one prior complaint from one municipality in the current five-year contract period, which started in mid-2016.
“All things are opinion-based. ... There’s no data — just blanket statements without any factual data,” he said.
The other complaint came earlier this summer.
“There was glass on some roads, trash was blown out of a truck,” he said. “They (Advanced Disposal) have since then removed themselves from other contracts in other areas in order to provide better service here.”
In addressing the instance of hydraulic fluid spilling onto a Newville Borough street, Mack said, “Trucks break down. It happens every day.”
Southampton Township has contracted with Advanced Disposal for about 10 years. Mack said the contract has been renewed because of service and price, which decreased by $2 for the current contract period.
Southampton fees average $45 per quarter.
However, Advanced Disposal is no longer picking up glass recycling in the Southampton trash service area, which it had been doing previously at no charge.
Mack said safety was the main concern expressed at Monday’s meeting, and both municipality and Advanced Disposal representatives are working together for improvement.
Also contributing to the problem is a shortage of drivers.
“There’s a colossal shortage of drivers,” Mack said. “Advanced Disposal is not defending itself, but it’s the reality. And it’s nationwide. There’s a nationwide shortage of 300,000 drivers. Advanced Disposal recognizes that and is working to make it better.
“There were no contract changes,” he said. “We’re all striving to do better. ... We want to let every citizen know that we’re trying to do our best to collect their garbage, and to do it in the safest way.”
He said Newville Borough streets are narrow, and officials plan to more closely monitor speed and collect data.
But he said that everyone must also realize that no plan is perfect.
“It’s winter,” he said. “There will be delays, people will get sick, substitutes will be unfamiliar with routes. Things happen.”
The letter also included a request for an Advanced Disposal representative to attend a WCCOG meeting.
Mack said that would be Advanced Disposal’s decision, “but as far as I’m concerned, Advanced Disposal doesn’t have a contract with the WCCOG. They have a contract with Southampton Township.”