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Interview with Walter M. Schirra, Jr. [4/19/2004]

Fran Foley:

Today is April 19, 2004, Monday. This interview with Walter Marty Schirra, Jr. is taking place at the Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society in Rancho Santa Fe, California. My name is Fran Foley, Archivist and Curator for the Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society. The Historical Society is collecting and recording World War II oral histories from veterans in Rancho Santa Fe and the surrounding area. Copies of this recording will be made and given to the veteran, the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. and the D-Day Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana. Would you please tell me your name, your date of birth and your current address?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

I go by the name of Walter Marty Schirra, Jr., born on [redacted]

Fran Foley:

And your current address?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

My current address is [redacted]

Fran Foley:

O.K. And Wally .... may I call you Wally?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Wally.

Fran Foley:

What war and in what branch of the service did you serve?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

I initially was a midshipman at the Naval Academy from June of '42 till June of '45. After graduation as an ensign .... in those days a regular ensign instead of a reserve, which they're doing today ... .I was assigned to a battle cruiser, Alaska, which was in the Pacific, and flew out part way and it was on a LST, a landing ship vehicle that got us into a little bit of combat. We were being chased by aircraft and I managed to help a machine gunner on a machine gun ..... nothing exciting, but at least I had that. I found Alaska in the harbor at Buckner Bay, near .... at Okinawa. What was interesting, when I got to Okinawa I came to this dock and some kind of a man like a purser said, "You have to go up the hill. Here's a tent .... you can check in and they'll give you a tent to stay in." I said, "I did not go to West Point so I would stay in tents and get in mud. I'm not going to go into a tent and stay in mud." So I walked back to the dock and found a JG who I knew at the Naval Academy who had a motor whale boat, and he took me out in the harbor looking for Alaska. I came alongside this large, large gray ship and he waited at the bottom to see ... J had my sea bag and a very long knife in my .... we were ready to do combat. Climbed up on the top deck and said, "Ensign Schirra reporting aboard Alaska, sir." "Wrong boat, sonny, go back to your whale boat." I had to go all the way back down the ship's ladder and we went around the harbor and finally found Alaska. So I was then commissioned, of course, as an ensign. But serving then during those last months of World War II. This would be July .... end of July of 1945.

Fran Foley:

O.K., now let's kind of back up a second. What were you doing before Pearl Harbor?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Oh, prior to Pearl Harbor I was a student, having graduated from high school and then going to Jersey .... a student at New Jersey Institute of Technology they call it now ... .it used to be called Newark College of Engineering. And on Pearl Harbor day, that Sunday, I had just come back from home and I sawall these fraternity buddies in uniform .... not all, but most of them. What in the devil is this all about? And I found out that we had started World War II, or at least we'd been attacked, which started World War II. I was still a student there and was even more adamant about getting into the military world. My dad wanted me to go to West Point, that's why I was kidding about that earlier. I said, "Dad, I like to play hockey, I like to ski. I'm going to go south where the people stay in nice gray boats." And so I elected to go to the Naval Academy instead of West Point.

Fran Foley:

Oh, so that's how you ended up there.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

I've had a lot of West Point graduates say the same thing about the Navy, so it's kind of fun. We tease each other. .... that's why we all say, "Beat Army."

Fran Foley:

And after Pearl Harbor, you were still in school, right?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

I was in .... .left the college to do some prep school work to pass the entrance exams and I entered the Naval Academy that June of ....

Fran Foley:

'42.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Yeah.

Fran Foley:

And during the time that you were at the Naval Academy, of course the war was going on full swing .... and do you remember any of the .... any ... the atmosphere around the Naval Academy?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

We were very, very gung-ho and of course we were happy that we were only going to take three years to take what amounted to a four year course. We insisted they expanded the syllabus to five but compressed it to three.

Fran Foley:

Um-hmm.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

And we had some war heroes come back. One great story which I should share, and a lot of my Naval Academy classmates love it. A commander by the name of Jarrett ..... Harry Bean Jarrett. ... we ended up calling "Uncle Beanie." But here we are these young kids. Now he was probably about 8 years older than we, but he was the commander of a destroyer that came alongside of an aircraft carrier...I think...I'm not sure which one...it might have been Lexington. But at any rate, went through a great rescue and everybody was thrilled about him. Well, this commander would go around in the halls of Bancroft Hall, where the midshipman as an aid is to take notes. And they found a passageway that went from Bancroft Hall, where all the midshipmen resided, to the laundry...that took care of all our laundry. And he decided, Uncle Beanie, to walk over to this young midshipman and found a first classman involved rather heavily with this laundry girl. He wrote him up for "unauthorized articles in laundry bag," and we loved him ever since. Isn't that a cute story?

Fran Foley:

That is.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Those kind of heroes also taught us and that's the whole point of the story...that there's warmth, there's a hero and they can share with you. You know, that same midshipman would have been kicked out if he'd been accused of what he was really doing. As it was, he was probably confined for two weekends and was really thankful that he wasn't kicked out of the Naval Academy.

Fran Foley:

Do you think that might not happened if it had not been war time?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

I don't think it would have happened today. Reading about West Point and the Air Force Academy today.

Fran Foley:

Oh, absolutely. So after you graduated from the Naval Academy, what was your next .... what was your assignment?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Well, then I was assigned to the battle cruiser Alaska and went right out there.

Fran Foley:

Um-hmm.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

And we saw the end of World War II .... we were in the area of Okinawa, had a few deployments. And what was really weird ..... we were back in Buckner Bay, of all places .... anchored .... when the first nuclear bomb went. And of course everybody there said the war's over.

Fran Foley:

That's August 6, 1945, Hiroshima.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Yes. So here we are aboard ship now and the war's over. We go up on the deck now .... this is this large open deck and have outdoor movies because the war's over. And all of a sudden, next to us is battleship Pennsylvania and a kamikaze came in and dropped a torpedo on the Pennsylvania and almost sank it.

Fran Foley:

Wow.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

We put out the lights, of course, cut the movies and all went back to battle stations. And of course then the next group came along .... we knew then the war was over. And from that point on we weren't worried about planes attacking us. But at that point in time, after the first nuke, we actually saw combat .... amazing.

Fran Foley:

Well, because they still hadn't surrendered.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

They hadn't surrendered .... that's the whole point.

Fran Foley:

Three days later it was Nagasaki.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Yeah.

Fran Foley:

And they still didn't ..... well, actually did not surrender even after Nagasaki.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Well, it took awhile ..... that's it. They'll talk about this .... the fly boys .... that Hirohito was really a killer leader, not this sweet little guy that they portrayed later. They get into that quite thoroughly.

Fran Foley:

Um-hmm.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

So it's kind of fun to have seen the end of that.

Fran Foley:

Yeah.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

We went from Buckner Bay then on to a tour of what they called the Yellow Sea show of force, like the old great white fleet. And that's how I ended up in Tsingtao, China and leading the sailors to their first liberty they'd ever had since the end of World War II, really.

Fran Foley:

And what was that like when .... ? Do you remember that?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Well, everybody was beholden to us ... .it was great fun.

Fran Foley:

It was just a little village, wasn't it?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

It was just .... .it was a German city .... the same town that makes Tsingtao beer now.

Fran Foley:

Oh, right.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

It's on the Shantung Peninsula, north of Shanghai and south of Bejing .... or Peking. What's so interesting about it, though .... here were are now, fresh taught ensigns and we were now on the beach and the three of us ... , three young ensigns .... one was commissioned a month before the other two of us .... rented three horses from a white Russian and went riding off in the country to see what the country was like. This is my very favorite story about the end of World War II. We were riding along and we see this rather .... stone, rugged looking building. We look at it and we see a Japanese flag and the flag starts coming down. They were surrendering to three of us in uniform on horseback. Talking about the war not being over yet ....

Fran Foley:

Yeah.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

And we had to take a sword and a pistol and I think a knife from the fort leader. I don't know what rank he was because we didn't know what a Japanese officer looked like.

Fran Foley:

Right.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

And so we brought the sword back to the captain of the ship. We were still shaking like kids...we didn't know what the heck happened to us.

Fran Foley:

How many Japanese were there .... do you remember?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

A hundred some odd.

Fran Foley:

Oh, my goodness.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Yeah, a whole fort full of them. And three little ensigns that didn't know what we were doing except riding horses.

Fran Foley:

It's lucky that the Japanese didn't realize there weren't more of you.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Oh, well of course they must have known a ship was there, yeah.

Fran Foley:

Yeah.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

They probably knew a ship was there. Isn't that a surprising story?

Fran Foley:

That is surprising, particularly since it wasn't in the Japanese culture .... their culture of Bushido .... not to surrender.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

That surprised me. I think they must have had some people looking around seeing the different areas and then the ship came in and other ships were in. We were actually at anchor in the harbor there.

Fran Foley:

Um-hmm.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

They couldn't see the ship from where they were. We were back in the country maybe about five or ten miles.

Fran Foley:

So that was your really first face-to-face contact with the Japanese.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

A weird face-off at least.

Fran Foley:

O.K., and so then after .... after you left Tsingtao, what happened after that?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Well, the ship itself then was re-ordered back to the mainland. We came through the Canal, which is very unusual for a ship that size .... .it just barely slipped through the Canal. ... and went up into Staten Island, where the ship was decommissioned.

Fran Foley:

Um-hmm.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

And after that I was ordered right back, of all things, to a staff in Tsingtao. It was the th Fleet Staff of a four star admiral, Admiral Cook.

Fran Foley:

What was your assignment?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

I was involved in a briefing team for operations and really got to know China. Now at that point in time, I .... when I got back, I married my wife and our honeymoon was rather short, and then we were living in Staten Island briefly with the ship being laid up and then bam! I'm off to China again. What is interesting is my wife was in China pre-World War II, and her mother burned out three husbands ..... the second one .... , the first one was her father. The second husband was an Annapolis graduate, class of '26, and he was on the Yangtze River patrol. And J 0, my wife, was going to school in Shanghai at the .... called the Shanghai American School, and grew up hating Japanese. She saw the Japanese doing .... not torture, but beating people and all this stuff because Japan was there.

Fran Foley:

Right. In the 30's ....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

They were evacuated yeah .... they were evacuated in early' 41.

Fran Foley:

Yeah, the rape of Nangking .

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Yeah, so they were out of there.

Fran Foley:

Yeah, the Japanese had been at it for almost 10 years...

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Yeah...

Fran Foley:

...in China.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

So she saw a lot of that.

Fran Foley:

Um-hmm.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

And she would not let a Japanese car in her driveway now .... that's her joke. If someone comes in with a Toyota or an Acura, she says, "Out!"

Fran Foley:

She and my husband would make a very good team ....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Is that right?

Fran Foley:

...because he feels exactly the same way.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Yeah. But she recovered from that years and years later. After the space program we went to Tokyo and then to other parts of the city .... of the cities .... and she fell in love with the Japanese women, but still hates the Japanese men.

Fran Foley:

Well, that's understandable.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Yeah, there's...yeah.

Fran Foley:

You know, things are retained in people's minds for a long time ....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Oh, yeah.

Fran Foley:

what they see and some of the things that they endured, you know. There's so many different ways of approaching it that I've come across that in a way it's a little bit mind boggling as well as interesting that even POW's...

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Yeah .

Fran Foley:

...some...

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Still are even forgiving.

Fran Foley:

Yeah.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

One of my favorite stories is Joe Foss, a very dear friend of mine, who, in combat one day ran out of ammunition and this Japanese in a zero also ran out of ammunition. The flight formation saluted each other and split. Years later they rendezvoused again...many, many, many years later...they became good friends.

Fran Foley:

Yeah, it happens.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Isn't that amazing?

Fran Foley:

Yeah, it is. So ....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

We ended up...I was on this four star admiral's staff and lived in a little beach house in Tsingtao, China. And my wife, now a fresh young bride, had three servants and said, "This isn't bad duty. I like this." So .... and she was raised in the Chinese environment where her mother and father had servants. To finish that story, her mother burned that husband out, too, and she remarried an admiral by the name of Holloway, the father of young Jim Holloway. The father was Lord Jim, who was a four star admiral, and young Jim was CNO of a four star admiral. So my Navy rank as captain didn't go very far in that family. There was another brother-inlaw, Lome Hayworth, who just died recently, a rear admiral. But I told Jo's mother, "Go for one more. Go for five stars."

Fran Foley:

So you were ..... how long were you in China?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

We left there in December of ' 47.

Fran Foley:

O.K.

Fran Foley:

And I started flight training.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

That was in '48 when you went to Pensacola?

Fran Foley:

Yeah, actually we were doing it .... we started training in ' 48.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Um-hmm. And what made you decide to get your wings?

Fran Foley:

Oh, I wanted that from the very beginning, although oddly enough and you'd know about it here in San Diego .... Alaska going by Hawaii stopped there on the way back from World War II. And a flight of F8F Bearcats flew over and buzzed the ship and I said, "I think that's like the Blue Angels." Of course San Diego has Blue Angels all over the place. And with that I said, "I've waited too long to get in aviation." But in those days we had to have a year of what we called "Black Shoe Duty" before you could go to flight training. So I had that year. I'm just trying to think ... .I must have come back in December of' 46 because I started flight training in '47.

Fran Foley:

Right ..... well, in February .....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

I got my wings in June of '48.

Fran Foley:

O.K.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Yeah.

Fran Foley:

And after you got your wings...well, first of all, what was the pilot's training at Pensacola like? Do you recall? What kind of trainers did you fly and...?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

I started out flying a...in Corpus Christi, Texas...near there...no, no, I started flying near Dallas-Fort Worth and it was Grand Prairie Airport...it's long gone...the bi-plane...the Steerman...the two-seater. By the way, as an aside, Bill Allen...do you know Bill?

Fran Foley:

Sure.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Young Bill?

Fran Foley:

Um-hmm.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Did you hear what happened to his passenger?

Fran Foley:

No.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

He was flying a fellow in a Steerman out of Gillespie who was over 80, and now we know he jumped out and that was...

Fran Foley:

Yeah.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

I just saw Bill yesterday.

Fran Foley:

Yeah, that's right. I forgot about that.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

But that was the first airplane I flew as an officer from the Naval Academy. They wanted to see if I could fly or not. My dad took me Flying. He was a World War I veteran, so I had plenty of experience about aviation, but never soloed. So I soloed in the Steerman, then went to Pensacola and then Corpus Christi, where I learned how to fly the SNJ. The Air Force called that the AT-6.

Fran Foley:

Right.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

There's a very funny story about that. I had Beechcraft training, PBY training because they were stretching out the syllabus. That's why it took a year and a half almost. The PBY, then I had F6F Bearcat, which I fell in love with--no, that was a Hellcat.

Fran Foley:

Hellcat.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

But what was so funny about that--when I got done with all this training they said, "Now we have to make an assignment either to fighters or sea planes." And I went to a little old lady, who was probably 30 years old, and this other fellow and officer that I was working with, who was a JG--I'm still an ensign. We report to this little old lady about our assignment and she said, "Well, I have one assignment for fighters, one assignment for multi-engine or sea plane." And Pinky Howard said, "Wally, it looks like you're in trouble." She said, "No, no, no, you have to draw straws." "I'll have you know I'm a JG and he's just an ensign." This was so beautiful...she said, "Right between JGs and ensigns is like virginity among whores. Take a straw!" And he lost! He resigned after about two years. So with that, I ended up continuing my training on F6Fs and carrier qualified...carrier qualified with the SNJ at one point. And then went to a squadron at Quonset Point, Rhode Island with a young skipper by the name of Armistead Burwell Smith...Chick Smith...who lives here...and he was a veteran of World War II and a triple ace and taught me all about how to fly fighters the right way.

Fran Foley:

Um-hmm.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

And he was a very dear friend. There's one anecdote I've got to put in about Chick Smith that he hates...its in my book, also. Jo and I reported to Quonset Point to report to the squadron, VF - 71. The result of it was the duty officer said, "Everybody's up at the Oak Club." It was a Friday. So I walked up...or drove up to the Oak Club, walk into this private room where VF-71 is having a party, and there's this man standing on his head, drinking a martini. This is Chick Smith. Years later I said, "If this man could drink a martini at negative 1G, I could do anything at 0G," which of course is a _____ to the space program.

Fran Foley:

That's a great story.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

I thought you'd like that one.

Fran Foley:

During the--during the time that you were in Fighter Squadron 71. ...

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Um-hmm. Q...because that was your next assignment.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

That was my first assignment after being designated a naval aviator.

Fran Foley:

Um-hmm, um-hmm. And do you recall--you said you were also carrier qualified at that time.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Oh, yeah.

Fran Foley:

And do you recall what it was like with your first carrier landing?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Well, I had that with the SNJ in flight training.

Fran Foley:

So you were used to it.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Yeah. And I had the F6F Hellcat...and then the Bearcat I got later.

Fran Foley:

Um-hmm.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

We had a couple of Mediterranean deployments my wife says they're cruises. It was still war-time in Europe...still mentally. France was just beholden, they loved us.

Fran Foley:

Sure.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Not anymore, but they did then.

Fran Foley:

What was your favorite prop plane to fly?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

That was it...the Hellcat.

Fran Foley:

The Hellcat. Everyone likes the Hellcat.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Yeah, yeah, oh, just love it. It still holds the world record for closed course speed.

Fran Foley:

Unh-hunh.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Amazing.

Fran Foley:

And, now when you went with the...o.k., then moving on, moving on .... during the time that you became a naval aviator and after the war five years and then of course Korea is upon us.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Well, that's interesting we're getting into that. I transitioned from the hot shot fighter pilot of the Bearcat, went to training at Pensacola again to fly a little jet...F -80. And I probably had about 500 hours in the Bearcat by then, came back to the squadron after about 30 hours, now jet qualified...The Bearcat or the Hellcat?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

The Bearcat.

Fran Foley:

Oh.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

The Bearcat is the F8F and the Hellcat is the F6, I'm sorry. It was the Bearcat I was flying during that time frame. The result of it was, when I came back they asked me to take an F8F Bearcat from Quonset Point to Rhode Island .... to Norfolk. I took off and forgot all about rudders because the jets, you don't use rudders .... almost crashed into the hangar. Finally got off and made it. But I went to the Mediterranean then with an F8F-2 Panther, which is a Grumman fighter, and while in the Mediterranean we were in company with another carrier, the Philippine Sea. We were one of the first jet squadrons in the Atlantic and in the Mediterranean, of course. With us on Phil Sea was a squadron of Banshees, which is the F2H, and we got to know each other on liberties and all that different times with both ships in the harbor. What was interesting .... .1 knew three of the fellows who were flying Banshees were going to go to the Air Force on exchange. As we came back to the States after this deployment, the war had started and Midway, our local ship, was too large to go through the Canal. So we went back and we were flown off. ... flew off Midway. My last flight off that carrier was an F8F flying into Quonset Point. I knew that the other ship was going to go through the Canal. ... the Philippine Sea .... so those three guys were on their way to Korea. I got back with Warren Dunn in Washington and said, "Those three guys you have on exchange from the Phil Sea, they're not going to make it. They're on their way to Korea." "Oh, my gosh, that's right. Do you know any pilots available?" "I'm available." And I got one of my squadron mates and the third guy .... whoever they picked up. We had and Air Force exchange. Well, how this all comes together is actually amazing. With Air Force exchange you could go almost anywhere. My friend who I arranged for, Ace O'Neil, who lived here eventually and has since passed away, went to Otis Island in Massachusetts. I called a classmate at West Point, Slade Dash, and said, "Slade, now I'm a lieutenant. Where should I go?" He said, "Oh, you want a real good deal? They're forming a guard .... a National Guard wing at Langley Air Force Base and there's a great squadron called the 136 Fighter Bomber Wing ..... they're P5I pilots .... they're going to transition to jets and they need somebody like you." I had almost a thousand hours injets.

Fran Foley:

Wow.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

So I report to this National Guard squadron knowing, as he told me, they were going to go into combat in three months. And I am now an instructor. . . . the Navy instructor ... .I' m instructing all these pilots in the Air Force how to fly a jet. It's a funny little parallel when you think of it.

Fran Foley:

It is ....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

The wing commander of the wing .... ofthe 136 Fighter Bomber Wing, had one ride in the back of a T-33. That's the only jet time in the whole wing. And then when guys like Kerry talked about the Guard, I want to just slap him in the face. These guys were really veterans of World War II ....

Fran Foley:

Sure.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

They're P-51 senior pilots, command pilots ... .they picked up the jets just like that. And we're in combat within three months in Korea.

Fran Foley:

Amazing .... that is amazing.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

The whole wing went there. And I keep saying the 136 Fighter Bomber Squadron was out of Little Rock ... .I said, "Something good did come out of Little Rock." A little shot at Clinton.

Fran Foley:

So now when you ..... how many missions did you fly ....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

I did 90.

Fran Foley:

90 combat missions. With the Korean Conflict, do you recall any thoughts that you had when you did these missions in terms of what...here we are just out of World War II...five years down the road and then we're just doing...we're back at war again.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Back at war. The--we started flying out of Japan, Azuki, all the way up into north where the bomb line had pretty well been defined by the time we got there. So that horrible winter up north and coming back down was over and we were still trying to get bases going in what we now call South Korea. And we flew out of Azuki all the way up to ..... as far as Pyongyang and came back with just a gasp of fuel to cross the Straits of Tsushima to land in Azuki. So we did that for a while and suddenly Tagu .... Tagu opened up and we moved up there with unbelievable primitive stuff. I said, "Now I know why I went to the Navy." We were in these wooden barracks .... they were just dirty, dirty, dirty. They called it "pierced steel planking" on either end of this runway and we had just very crude .... they were flying jets out of there with bombs. The plane was so underpowered it barely got off the ground.

Fran Foley:

What plane was that?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

F-84.

Fran Foley:

F-84.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

F-84-E. And that's the way you have to do things. We had missions, two and three sometimes a day, flying up into North Korea. I ended up one time escorting B-29s among other airplanes .... F86s, Gloster from the Royal Australia Air Force and here we were these little dinky F-84s. That's where I got my first kill on a Mig-15. And then a couple of missions after that, I had one other kill .... which they're calling it "damaged or probable." I think I had, in my mind, two kills with a couple damaged. But we weren't really involved in air to air combat. We were more involved with air to ground .

Fran Foley:

Um-hmm.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

And we saw people on the ground...it was interesting.

Fran Foley:

Well, did it ever occur to you or did you ever have in your thought process .... here in World War II we were i.e., allies with the Russians and now we're .... you're shooting down a Mig and .... can you recollect some of the .... maybe philosophy or dichotomies that you had going in terms of some of those ....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

It's very interesting. We were a little intrigued by the fact that we saw some dumb things happening with the Mig-15. Talk about air to air. At one time in this one session we were .... combat session ... .looked up and I saw one of them way up high circling. I thought, "Oh, that looks like the wing commander up there watching what's going on." And we began to think that maybe that was a Russian up there who taught these guys how to fly Mig-15s. But we began to think that. ... very rarely did we ever get in combat with a Russian or a Chinese. It turned out they were mostly .... they were Russians and Chinese, not Koreans flying these things.

Fran Foley:

But you didn't know that.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

We didn't know that till years later. And I've had some reports about...I even got to know some cosmonauts who confirmed that for me. Isn't that amazing?

Fran Foley:

Yeah, it is...

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

So we were blinded by the fact. ... thinking these are pretty dumb people, because the local natives around where we were .... and I'm embarrassed to call it .... we called them "gooks," which was a real down thing.

Fran Foley:

Right.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

We didn't have any respect for them, although we ..... one night I went out pheasant hunting with a couple of them one time. They didn't have any guns or ammo. They showed us how they went hunting. But they were very primitive, like our early, early Indian tribes almost. So it was amazing to go back to Korea many, many years later and see this very intelligent nation .... making beautiful cars and all kinds of things that we like.

Fran Foley:

Yeah, which if we had not been in Korea, that probably ....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Would not have happened. .....

Fran Foley:

wouldn't have happened.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

No, if you go into North Korea, you know it's not there.

Fran Foley:

Yeah .... there's a difference.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

They just buy Mercedes Benz.

Fran Foley:

Yeah, there is a difference. So you were you were in the were you in the Korean Conflict for the entire time from what? 19--

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Well, it was essentially 1951, yeah.

Fran Foley:

'51.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Yeah, we went over there early June of' 51 and I came back in ... .I think it was December of ' 51.

Fran Foley:

Where was your wife living at the time?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

She was in Washington. Mother and Dad, by the way, were in .... this is really wild ... .in Tokyo. I went on R and R with a couple of my squadron mates to go and visit Mother and Dad. Now isn't that interesting an interesting way of looking at a war, when you think about it.

Fran Foley:

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So in 1952, then, you went to .... you began your next assignment as a test pilot, is that correct?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

I went to China Lake, just north of here in California.

Fran Foley:

Oh, o.k.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

It's a thing called the Naval Ordnance Test Station and I was ordered in there. It's a fun little story to share, also. I reported as a Navy lieutenant. Now I'm a hot-shot fighter pilot. .. .I've got a couple of kills, maybe three. And I want to go to test pilot school. No, no, no, I'm ordered to China Lake. So we were getting ready to bring a boat out to China Lake, which is the driest desert in California. I report in to a commander whose first name is Tom. This same commander is relieved by another commander while I'm there by the name of Tom. The third person on that same job .... experimental officer ..... his name is Tom. They were Tom Moore, who became CNO, Tom Connolley, a three star admiral, Tom Walker, who was local. All three are gone now. And I kid about all three Toms maintained the Tomcat. .... the F14 .... was named after him. That's my favorite story . Well, Tom Moore took me across to the .... what they called the Michaelson Laboratory to look at this class enclosed 5 inch diameter device. I was smoking cigarettes like a chimney man in those days. I looked at this thing and it was tracking me across the room. I said, "Vh-oh. I think I like this job." And that was my project .... to develop Sidewinder, which is in production today. I was thinking about this .... 1952 I first saw it.

Fran Foley:

Sidewinder missile.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Sidewinder missile .... an air-to-air missile. But can you imagine how many years that's been in production? Over 50 years.

Fran Foley:

And a good missile.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Oh, it's doing very well. I went to China Lake recently for the 50th anniversary of Sidewinder .... two years ago, to be exact.

Fran Foley:

So you were instrumental in helping to develop that?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Yes, I did all the early. I have a very great painting at home .... almost the size of. two panels and about half that high. It shows Wild Horse Mesa .... China Lake and all these horses are romping around. Way up in the comer is a trail of white--airplane and over here's another one...it's a B-17 drone. I hit it with a Sidewinder .. .it was the first hit. And so the artist painted that and presented that to me. It's one of my favorite treasures, of course.

Fran Foley:

Well, now there's also another interesting little story about one test flight you had where you launched a Sidewinder .....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

That was the Sidewinder that we fired at an airplane called the F3D, which was a side-by-side night fighter that the Marines used during Korea. And I had a technical person in the right seat and I'm flying the left seat. As the missile launched it pulled it rapidly like that and I said, "Uh-oh, I'm in trouble," so I did a loop behind it so it wouldn't catch up to me because it was looking for heat. And I was the only source of heat in range.

Fran Foley:

So it was in back of you.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

It pooped out before it got in back of me, so I lucked out. I did a loop inside of it.

Fran Foley:

Oh, o.k., so that's how you evaded it.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Yeah, yeah. So, we only had one choice.

Fran Foley:

What was in your mind when you saw this happening?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

I have a target. And having been a target before, that's a rather bad feeling.

Fran Foley:

I can imagine.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

And interesting war story ... .I was just thinking about that. Fighter pilots have a break left or break right and I was just closing in on this Mig15, seeing ... .in fact, the gun camera film showed sparkles coming up from the tail towards the cockpit. My wingman said, "Wally, break right." I sucked the stick back and practically swallowed everything and broke right and the _ what was on my tail .... that's the whole point of this .... doing that sidewinder ... .it broke up. Got back and he said, "Y ou almost crossed the Yellow River chasing that Mig." If I had, I would have been court marshaled shortly after that. The gun camera film showed those sparkles on the tail of the airplane and off in the distance you could see the Yellow River.

Fran Foley:

Wow.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

So he defended me from being worse and getting shot down from a court marshal.

Fran Foley:

You've had some interesting experiences.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Isn't that amazing? When you think of that...we talk about break right and if people do that and they always keep saying, "Check 6." That works with an analog, but on a digital watch, where' s 6? Another bad one, I'm sorry.

Fran Foley:

So now you were out at .... how long were you out at China Lake?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Oops, you've got a blinker ... .is it o.k.?

Fran Foley:

No, that's o.k.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Oh, it's just recording. I was there for exactly two years. I was wondering whether I would have another assignment.

Fran Foley:

So I was asking you about how long you were out at China Lake.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

I was there two years to the day. And then we were ordered...I was ordered to Miramar here and I joined an organization called Project Cutlass and there were seven of us, which was rather interesting when I think of years and years later I joined Project Mercury where there were seven of us. And we flew an airplane called the Cutlass, which we called the "Gutless Cutlass." It was called the "Widow Maker" and a whole bunch of other things. It was one of the first Delta wing airplane that came out, with two vertical assemblies rather than a wall fuselage and a tail. And it flew, but it was properly named "Widow Maker." We ended up trying to qualify it to see if it would go into U.S. fleet safely or not and we .... and Admiral Martin, who we called "Beauty Martin," vice admiral. ... all of us gave it a down. I mean, it was not fit for service ..... so they put it in service. Kept ChanceVought going. And the sad part is that it would go into a spin with the slats in and it was not recoverable. And we called it a post-fall gyration. Recovery technique was to eject. And the company test pilot came out to Air Pac, the headquarters to brief us and the admiral on the status of the Cutlass. And one of the fellows said, "Are we going to see normal recovery procedure?" This film shows a guy sitting there checking his ejects...normal procedures. It soon went on to the fleet. Three of us went up to Moffett Field and joined a group up there called VC-3, where we had what we called transitional training. This ... the concept which became Top Gun in later years and we had the Cutlass, we had FJ-3, which is a Navy version of the F -86 and the Banshee and I eventually ended up flying the F3H, the Demon, up there. So we were instructing all different kinds of people on how to fly these new aircraft. It was a choice billet for a fighter pilot.

Fran Foley:

Now at that time when you were flying Demons, you were what? The operations officer?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

At the end of that tour up there, I was transitioned from the earlier jets to the newest one, which was the Demon, and then reported back to Miramar, of all places, to a squadron called VF-124. And that squadron deployed on aircraft carrier Lexington .....

Fran Foley:

On the Lex.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

--to the Pacific.

Fran Foley:

And what did you do...what was your assignment on the Lex?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

I was operations officer.

Fran Foley:

Oh, operations officer, right.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

And transitioned from a day fighter pilot to an all weather fighter pilot. And I had more fun by saying, "O.K., 'all weather' means daylight and night, doesn't it?" "Well, yeah." "I've got to teach you guys how to do some day fighting." Then these night guys came back and tried to run them. I said, "Do you know how to do day fighting?" "What do you mean?" "Well, there are only about 8 hours of night and there are 12 hours left or more or daylight. We better start doing some daylight tactics." So I ended up getting Sidewinder put on that airplane because I had all those buddies at China Lake and by putting gun cameras and gun site cameras on the plane, we started doing day fighter tactics. Then I was taught my lesson .... the most horrible experience of all the experiences I've ever had for night flying or day flying or space flying, was to come aboard an aircraft carrier in my younger years at night. That is an experience. There's not one aviator would deny you that same thought.

Fran Foley:

You mean night carrier landing.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Night carrier landing. It really is a test of your indomitable spirit.

Fran Foley:

Right. Well, that's interesting because I've had a couple of pilots tell me when I've asked them specifically about qualifying for night carrier and that kind of thing .... I've gotten varied remarks and of course the most common one I hear is, you know, "We've got a hook."

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Yeah, that's it. Oh ....

Fran Foley:

And there's a barrier at the end and so .... and there's a lighted landing ....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Nowadays it's not so bad because you have what they called a slanted deck and you can .... .if you miss you have a bolter. But if you missed the wire in those days, you hit a barrier fence and that's a crash.

Fran Foley:

Right.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

So you don't have bolters or touch and goes.

Fran Foley:

Right.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

And a lot of people now practice carrier landings by doing touch and goes without the hook, so they get themselves acclimated to the approach and landing. So that's quite a touching experience.

Fran Foley:

And while you were on the Lex, where did the Lex go?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

We went to the Pacific ....

Fran Foley:

Um-hmm.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

... and ended up in Japan for a while, which is typical. And our squadron was having trouble getting the young boys, including .... by then I was qualified .... but some of the younger ones qualified, and so they put us on the beach for awhile for some more training ..... about two weeks I got back aboard ship. And the ship finally came back to the mainland again. It was a typical six month deployment. My wife was clever .... she went out with us .... or independently to Hawaii, where Mother and Dad now lived. Dad was working with the Air Force ..... he came back to the 5th Air Force in Hawaii. So Jo, my wife, stayed with Mother and Dad over on in the Kanahoe ..... Kahlua side of the islands, getting ready for the birth of our daughter. That worked out very well for her.

Fran Foley:

Yeah, I would think so. And .... let's see, that was in '56 and '57 on the Lex, right?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Yes.

Fran Foley:

And in '57, what happened after you left the Lex?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

I came back to the States and they were reassigning people to the squadron. We'd had our deployment, which is typical, and I was assigned to safety school at USC and I'm now considered a graduate of USC by the local fundraisers. And we were taught some pretty high tech mathematics, which a lot of people hadn't had in those years .... we at the Naval Academy did. And with that were taught all of the principles of an accident investigation and not to make an early conclusion, not to look for the Easter egg, but to look at all the parameters and study this rather carefully.

Fran Foley:

And did you ..... so you were there basically as a student?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

I was there as a student, then a lieutenant commander, having finished up this tour with the F3s. I was coming .... oh, I hadn't left the squadron, that's right. I was still assigned to the squadron, being assigned to this as an extra duty. When I finished that, I had applied for test pilot school and so when I finished that course, I came back to squadron for a few and was on my way back to Maryland for Pawtuxet for test pilot school.

Fran Foley:

And what did you do at Pawtuxet?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Well, there we spent quite a period of time, almost up until. .... let's see, it had to be ....

Fran Foley:

'59?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

The end of'58 .... somewhere in '58 we graduated as Class 20. In that class were Jim Lovell and Pete Conrad and Wally Schirra. All three of us became astronauts. There were only about 20 in the class. A number of the class died in aircraft accidents testing aircraft. There were only about five or six survivors out of the whole class .... not due to age now, but just due to aircraft accidents. So we .... with that, I was assigned as a graduate of test pilot school, then to an organization called Service Test, which tested all the aircraft for service compatibility, and then I got to fly some of the high speed stuff and flew the very first F 4 H, the Phantom II. I was the 13th guy to fly it, so that was my first mach II flight was in that airplane.

Fran Foley:

Wow. That must have been something.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

That was fun. Then I was flying an airplane called the F -11, a Grumman fighter, and had some high altitude work with it and used this pressure suit .... they called it a full pressure suit. What's interesting about that .... that set me up for what I did later on in the space program.

Fran Foley:

O.K., I was going .... I was .... kind of get into that now. How did it come about that you were selected or named as one of the Mercury astronauts? How did you .... you know, make the transition from pilot .... test pilot, fighter pilot to into that program?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Lots of anecdotes here. I...

Fran Foley:

And I guess during that time, too, after you'd been selected for the Mercury Program, you also received some degrees, right? You went on for higher education ....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Yeah, yeah. But what's amazing about all this ... .! was doing a test pilot school report on an airplane called the F4D, which is called the Skyray, which is my handle .... Skyray .... that's why the WSkyray .... AOL.

Fran Foley:

Uh-huh.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

The result of it was that, having finished the report, went outside to see what the weather was like because I had a flight the next morning early. I looked up and saw this thing going by ... .it was the booster for Sputnik. So here I am, writing up this complicated report on an airplane that does Mach I and that's doing Mach 25 or equivalent. That's the first thought I ever had about space. End of that story. Months later, after I'd graduated from having worked at Service Test, I had orders to go to Washington and a whole bunch of us showed up in Washington. I didn't know any of the fellows ... .I finally recognized Alan Shepard .... we'd talked once before. Didn't know anybody else. We were in this room with two engineers and a shrink on a stage telling us how neat it would be to go into space in this capsule. I said, "I don't want to do that." "Don't worry ..... we're going to put it on top of a rocket." "I know I don't want to do that." Well, I should tell you they keep on trying to sell us. "We're going to send monkeys and chimpanzees first." "There's no way I want to do that!" All of these great naval aviators I was with at test pilot school and we went out to Edwards and all that kind of stuff said, "Schirra, if you want to go higher, farther and faster, this is your big chance." I said, "Yeah, but what a dumb way to do it." Everybody gives Yeager credit for that. We all. .. .I really didn't have any respect for the space program for what it was supposed to be at that time. So I took the tests .... passed all the physical tests, the mental tests and suddenly got asked, "Would you be willing to go to Bethesda and have your throat operated on?" I said, "What's that for?" "You have a node on your vocal cord." "What will that mean?" "Well, if you get out of it all right, we want to talk to you some more." So I passed that test, had the node removed. The doctor said, "You must be something big because I never operate on junior officers ... I'm a commander. You must be going to the Moon or something." I couldn't talk .... my mouth was filled with stuff. Of course years later, there it was. But about a week later I got a phone call. "Would you be willing to join the space program?" And they mentioned the fellows who I got to know in all that time frame. So I said, "Oh, those are fun guys to be with. Oh, o.k., I'll come." So we went down to Langley. Actually, I guess we'd been to Langley, I went to Washington and had that April 1959 press conference, which was unreal. You couldn't believe what happened to us. Suddenly we're unknown Lieutenant Commander, Major .... and here we are visiting the Hill with then Vice President Johnson or Senate Majority Leader Johnson, Vice President Nixon, meeting all these people, and they're all fawning all over us .... all excited about these young astronauts or what have you. They wanted to have their picture taken. What is this all about? I thought these were exclusive people. What are we now? I had no idea. The transition was almost unbelievable.

Fran Foley:

Did that .... so you were totally unprepared that they were playing .... that the government was making a big deal.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

A big deal.. ... no, we had no idea, no.

Fran Foley:

..... publicity-wise and all that as the formation of the astronauts.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Just ... .it was really scary. The press conference was our first clue ...

Fran Foley:

Um-hmm.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

.... with this room full of reporters, clamoring all after us and making noises, cameras rolling. We said, "What's this all about?" What a transition that was.

Fran Foley:

I can imagine, I can imagine. Frightening, though, too, right?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

But we had time we went back to Langley and then we decided we'd better hide out this is ridiculous.

Fran Foley:

Little did you know.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Yeah.

Fran Foley:

So describe if you will .... give us a little sense of after you were named as one of the original seven Mercury astronauts that was in April of '59.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

'59.

Fran Foley:

And after your big introduction in D.C.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Yeah, what's interesting .... I went back to Langley, where I joined the Air Force.

Fran Foley:

Right.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Now, having done that combat with the Air Force and National Guard in Korea, I know that pulled me out of the pack .... that's the old expression. And that's why I got back to Langley a second time .... because I was a combatant, I'd flown a lot of jet aircraft, I'd done missile work, I'd flown high altitude and all this were variables that added up to a pretty good set of credentials. As I look back on it, I realized that now. The other Naval Academy fellow was Alan Shepard. And there were no Military Academy, by the way. The West Point graduates did not have as much engineering. They were more interested in tanks and weapons in the field. The Military Academy graduates who got in the space program had gone to post-graduate school before they .... then had the minimum .... we teased them .... the minimum education standards ....

Fran Foley:

During your .... well, during your time during your .... after being named as one of the original seven, you continued with your aeronautical engineering studies and ....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Well, we had classes all the time there and then we went to the ..... not to any college or university .... this is all with different engineers. A much higher level of sophisticated knowledge from rocket design teams ... .like Von Braun became a dear friend and shared all of his knowledge with us. The equivalence of Mr. Mack, who was MacDonald-Douglas old friend, Phillip Lee Atwood, President of North American .... they're all contemporary friends in contrast of being some CEO up in the high, high heavens. These were all working directly with us ... .it was a great expenence.

Fran Foley:

Does that still happen, by the way, do you know?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Not as much, no, that's where NASA fell apart.

Fran Foley:

Um-hmm.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

It really did. The...we were integrated into the system.

Fran Foley:

More of a camaraderie.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Yes, very much so. I still hear from the fellow who was my spacecraft engineer from North American and the equivalent spacecraft engineer for NASA. The two of them became buddies at Downey in California here. Each October they call me saying, "Thanks, Wally." Really, that's the ultimate compliment ....

Fran Foley:

It is.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

--from the working people who put this thing together. They're still very close friends.

Fran Foley:

Fantastic. The .... so tell us a little bit about after you were named one of the original seven .... can you kind of take me through some of the things that led up to the first launch?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

What .... we ended up at Langley, as I've said a couple of times, in an office with seven large steel desks, which is a play on LSD .... the Navy version .... but they're gray. And all seven in a room with little name tags on the top of the desk and then outside of that room of seven of us was our secretary ..... Nancy Lowe .... .1 thought of her name finally. And she was a young teenager, I think, and she had to handle these seven now well-known people at least becoming well-known. In that room, when we had a meeting one of the engineers, Walt Williams, who is since gone as well .... said, "Those seven guys would have a seance. They came out maybe with a bloody nose or a black eye, but all agreed 100 percent they wanted this." That's how we got our window done and all kinds of things. So we bonded very, very closely .... more so than brothers because we were competing, REALL Y competing with each other. But when it came to working, we worked together so closely that each one of us debriefed whatever we did for the other guy. I went ..... got involved with high pressure suits, as I mentioned earlier, with the environmental control system, Slayton was involved with the cockpit design and wanted rudder pedals .... we couldn't have rudder pedals and these kind of things, so we had a seance and ended up with a side arm controller with pitch, yaw and roll on one side of the controller. The left hand was used for throttle or ejection or abort, depending on what the function was, in all three spacecraft I flew. So it was kind of an interesting time frame to work together like that and to visit all of these corporate leaders in aerospace and engineering and science and pick their brains.

Fran Foley:

And actually work with them on perfecting the design of the capsule an all that ....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Exactly that .... we did. So it was a very thrilling time frame to be in and this same John Huey, who was a North American fellow, said, "Wally, I'll never forget. I never could make a change to an Apollo spacecraft without checking with you, nor could you make a change without checking with me." And that was the relationship we had. He still kids about that.

Fran Foley:

And then .... now .... when .... ?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Well, I jumped ahead, of course. Mercury came along and our director, Robert Gilreth .... Bob Gilreth .... asked us to do a peer rating .... that was to judge your other six members, not yourself, on who you thought would be the best candidate. I think too many of us voted for Shepard, and so he won and we kid about that. Alan was one of my very favorites, but he had that first flight. I'm very jealous of it. He launched a 15 minute mission landing near Bermuda. We all flew out to Bermuda to visit him and I kept saying, "Al, you didn't have that front window...what's this? What a beautiful view." "I have to think of something profound to say." My profound comment was...because I did have a window..."The beautiful view was the parachute. If it didn't come out it was a lousy flight." So we have a lot of fun playing that way as well.

Fran Foley:

And then when you actually went on your first mission, I'm sure you recall what that was like lifting off.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Well, that was a...we had a friend in the .... we acquired in Alan Shepard's time frame ..... Bill Dana, who played the role of Jose Jimenez, the Reluctant Astronaut, and the typical remark was, "Captain Jimenez, what is it like in blast off?" "Please don't use the 'blast off.' We use the word 'lift off.' We take a blast before lift off." That kind of humor is what we lived with. We were so well trained that we put the fear down to Apprehension...it was subjugated to apprehension. Maybe a lot of apprehension, but probably the greatest fear we had was that you wouldn't lift off and somebody else would steal your flight.

Fran Foley:

Really?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

It was that competitive.

Fran Foley:

That's interesting.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

So after lift off you finally said, "It's mine. Now I hope I don't screw up."

Fran Foley:

Um-hmm.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

It was simply that. And Shepard, of course .... on his countdown they had a delay. The book just came out, by the way, called "Light This Candle." It's very interesting. There's a lot of good stories in the book. A lot of us who are survivors were interviewed by the author .... not by Shepard because Shepard is long gone. But what was so interesting is how we were so close to Shepard at this point and cheering him along. I was flying a Mach II fighter, escorting him as he lifted off. And I stalled out at 20,000 feet and did what they call a 0G recovery and got my flying speed and he disappeared over the horizon. Transition from a hot-shot fighter pilot to now I'm jealous.

Fran Foley:

Oh, o.k.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

I'm jealous.

Fran Foley:

And when you .... when you had your first mission and you had lift-off, you said you were down to the apprehension level ....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Um-hmm.

Fran Foley:

Was that kind of replaced by total confidence with once you lifted off that ....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Oh, you knew you were on the way .... the clock started.

Fran Foley:

That's .... Shepard came out with that remark initially. "I have lift-off, the clock's started .... "

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Um-hmm.

Fran Foley:

.... which is interesting, by the way. And about, oh, maybe five minutes into the power flight .... the power flight's about 8-9 minutes long Deke Slayton said, "By the way, Wally, are you a turtle?"

Fran Foley:

Oh there was an uncouth answer called, "You bet your sweet ass I am. And you're not about to broadcast that to the world." So I switched the voice recorder only and recorded the answer. Over the years, on Apollo I held up a card .... a cue card for on television .... and said, "Deke Slayton, are you a turtle?" Deke Slayton finally got a flight on Apollo Syouz and he asked me in Russian, "Wally, are you a turtle?" And I had "Ya ea ast," is all I could think of...it's a little Russian. That played back...by then Cronkite's laughing like mad off camera. So this turtle thing went on through, oh, about 15 years.

Fran Foley:

Oh, my goodness. The ....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

So we had humor even though we were on power flight and everybody's supposed to be worried about living through it...we're kidding, if you can imagine.

Fran Foley:

From a physical standpoint when you were in orbit...

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Um-hmm.

Fran Foley:

...the weightlessness and all of that .... how did .... does that affect you any or did you just .... did you have to train for all of this?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

We had all these things but for a long duration of 0G or nearer what they call microgravity now. We flew in transport aircraft in the back of the cabin...you've seen flipping around and all that. When you first get in the weightless environment, you see things that are moving that you can't believe would move. And if you put .... take something out of your pocket and put it out there, it just stays there. And you do something else and pick it back up again. It was kind of fun to play that game.

Fran Foley:

Um-hmm.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Then those two engineers I talked about, by the way, did a last test before the spacecraft left the plant in Downey to go the Cape, where they essentially tumbled it in different attitudes to get rid of any little spare parts that might show up. I found a nut and a washer, one for each, at the end of that ..... mounted on a plaque later. They were floating around the cabin. Floating around the cabin.

Fran Foley:

But the weightlessness at first is fun if you want to play and do flips.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

But after a few days, as it was in Apollo, it gets very boring. Now fighter pilots don't like to go up and bore holes in the sky. They want to do the mission, get back down and land.

Fran Foley:

Exactly.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

So most fighter pilots wanted to get out of there. Well, that same engineer said, "Wally, I was betting you'd last eleven days just because of the contest. But I knew you didn't enjoy it." I said, "You're right."

Fran Foley:

Well, yeah, it's got to be kind of tough cooped up in a capsule for 11 days.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Oh, yeah, you can't eat out.

Fran Foley:

Well, which brings .... how did you eat?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

We had prepared food...in Mercury it was little tubes of food, like toothpaste tubes...baby food stuff. And then when we got into Gemini, we had a little more bite-sized stuff. And then in Apollo we had plastic bags we could reconstitute with hot water or cold water.

Fran Foley:

Big improvement.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

That was kind of fun.

Fran Foley:

Yeah, a big improvement. So you looked forward to the meals. Of course you had duties the whole time you were there.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

We were quite busy.

Fran Foley:

You were quite busy.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

We would try to...the way it was scheduled, we were supposed to have eight hours a day and then the rest of the time to goof off...eight hours working in two different shifts. But it was just too much spare time. Um-hmm. So we didn't go for that very well. We had to find things to do and that's when we did the "Wally, Walt and Don Show," which was our...we got an Emmy for that...the first Emmy in space. We had a lot of fun with that.

Fran Foley:

Now when you did look out the window when you were in space and everything, do you recall what your reaction was or what went through your mind when you were looking back at either Earth or...

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

That's a very good .... very good question because there's a Profound...due to this window we finally arranged in Mercury, you could see the horizon and a monster curve, in contrast with there being a dark sky when you go up high in an airplane or the so-called "beautiful view" of Alan Shepard's. We saw the planet and saw other planets ... .like we could see Mercury, which very few people see because it's so close to the sun when the sun sets. All the different celestial patterns, we saw those. Looked at Earth and saw long straight lines, like the wake of a ship or contrails .... those with long straight lines would show. Everybody said, "Well, that means you could see the Great Wall of China." Well, that was farther north...we weren't that far north. We were south of Jacksonville, south of San Diego and of course north of...not even as far north as Egypt or Cairo.

Fran Foley:

That's got to be very awe-inspiring.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Yes and we saw all of Africa and all of South America. So it's amazing to see all of this and realize that this unbelievable planet has people down there and you see...and no boundaries, no country border lines ...

Fran Foley:

Um-hmm.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

... .islands, yes, that kind of thing .... you could see all that. But what's amazing is after those three flights, I became very concerned about Spaceship Earth and I became involved with an environmental company I formed. And my code expression was, "I left Earth three times, I found no place else to go. Please take care of Spaceship Earth." And that's why I'm active in a lot of things like that now.

Fran Foley:

Well that's very profound, actually.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

It felt good, it really did. And I'm--to help Sea World and with the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. My nephew is an aquarist there at the Birch Aquarium.

Fran Foley:

Do you ever think that we will ever go to another planet and find life or be able to constitute human life on another planet such as Mars or--?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

It's feasible on Mars, although I usually put that story to bed by on... a riding trip now I, for recreation, by the way, go in tents and get in the mud having gone to the Naval Academy. But coming down the Yellowstone River on .... from Livingston heading down towards the park ..... here's the Yellowstone River. ... three other guys and I are in this SUV driving along and they're asking me all these space-y questions. I said, "Guys, look .... there are two men down there with a guide, fishing, having a wonderful time. There's some horses romping around. Look at ... there's some cattle over there. Not one of those animals is wearing a space suit."

Fran Foley:

You rest your case.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

You could not live on the Moon or Mars without a fully integrated space suit. You could live in a tent or a module or something like that, but not as we are on Earth. If you fly across this country, as I do quite often, looking down you see open, open areas for an airplane .... no vestiges of roads or civilization. Much more habitable than the Moon or Mars.

Fran Foley:

Um-hmm. Now this may sound like a school girl question, but knowing all this .... what do you .... why do you think this particular planet, Earth, is different in that respect that you just mentioned from all other planets that you've .... that you know about or that you've had your .... an opportunity to observe?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Well, that's a very good question. Within our solar system, this is the only planet which would support human life as we know it...I didn't say "life," I said "human life." Now if you statistically take a look at the immensity of the universe .... and we're seeing more and more of that with Hubble and other scientific ventures .... this is such a big, big, big thing that statistically the odds of you and I sitting here on some other place or another planet could very well be duplicated .... we might have a different name on the recorder.

Fran Foley:

Right.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

But that's .... but then the next nearest sun that could have a planetary system is in the Southern Cross .... Alpha or Beta Centauri. At the speed we went to the Moon and back, it'll take you about 30,000 years to get there. Four and a third years at the speed of light to get to the next nearest sun that might have a planetary system .... might have.

Fran Foley:

O.K.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Some are a billion years away at the speed of light, so comprehending this in my mind, I can say it's an infinite chance that life will appear someplace else within the universe, but we'll never be able to contact them. A message can only come to us at the speed of light.

Fran Foley:

Right.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

So it'll take a billion years to get here if they have .... have a complete civilization with a Rancho Santa Fe Historical Center... Isn't that amazing when you think of it, though?

Fran Foley:

Yes, it is.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

But statistically I can accept the fact that there has to be life someplace else ....

Fran Foley:

Um-hmm.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

--maybe not in the same form we have, but life. Now we might even find evidence of a life form on Mars and that's what the scientists are all excited about.

Fran Foley:

Right.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Why they're happy about finding little blueberries in the rock structure and hopefully finding evidence of more water. And I fly over...I fly across the ocean and I said, "Look at all the water we have. What are they talking about?" My favorite anecdote ..... Alan Shepard lived in Pebble Beach and we were watching a TV show of two announcers looking out at the golf course across the Monterey Bay and this one announcer said, "Gosh, that's a lot of water out there." The other fellow said, "Yeah, and you're only looking at the top." That puts things in perspective.

Fran Foley:

It does, it really does.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

We're digging around in Mars trying to find evidence of water .... well, I think its fine to have that kind of science. That puts it in perspective I think.

Fran Foley:

Um-hmm. Well, you know, I'm glad I asked you that question because I think there are a lot of people out there like me that ....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

I think it's a good question to ask and it's fun to put it in perspective. I give speeches and get into that every once and awhile.

Fran Foley:

Um-hmm, um-hmm. I think that's a question that the believers and the non-believers ....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Sure.

Fran Foley:

..... and of course there's always the scientific explanation .....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Um-hmm.

Fran Foley:

.... and I think it's a subject that interests everybody. You are the only astronaut that was on the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions, is that correct?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

In that sense I'm unique. I have fun with that.

Fran Foley:

Is that correct? So how did those three differ?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Each one was a stepping block to going to the Moon and back .... and we always add "and back," to confirm the round trip.

Fran Foley:

It's important.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

But the concept of the space program in those days .... through the age of Apollo, on into Apollo Syouz and Sky lab, was stepping stones and all of a sudden they decided to go into stunts like the Shuttle, like the International Space Station, which were dead-end streets. We were going to go to the Moon and back before the Soviets did, so we had that competitive environment as well. And at the end of Apollo, you could see it declining rapidly. I saw this happen rather hurriedly. I left the space program in July of 1969 and immediately had a contract with Walter Cronkite to broadcast the Apollo 11 lunar landing. I had become involved with an oil and gas company in Denver, Colorado, where we moved, and with Walter .... we had to take a helicopter out to the press facility at Cape Canaveral to watch the launch of Apollo 11. For that launch you could have gone out there in roller skates...the interest decayed that fast.

Fran Foley:

Really?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

By the time we got to Apollo 15, which was one of my favorites, they had a rover roaming around the Moon ..... Neil Armstrong's wife then, Jan, called me when I was in the studio and said, "Can't we get more air time?" I said, "Jan, no one's buying air time." The advertisers have to buy air time to get us on the air, except at news broadcast times. We couldn't broadcast pictures of the rover .... all these fun things. Dave Scott, who screwed up the mission, did one thing I thought was absolutely fantastic. He had an eagle feather and a geologic hammer and dropped them simultaneously and they both hit the Moon at the same time.

Fran Foley:

Oh, interesting.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

A very interesting way of showing what the Moon's atmosphere consisted of.

Fran Foley:

So when you left the space .... Apollo Program and ....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

By then I knew I could not get another Apollo flight to the Moon because I had arranged myself that he who commanded an Apollo mission would not get another command of an Apollo mission, so that was a dumb thing to do. I'm gone ... I had 24 years of active duty as a naval officer. I still say until this day, with this day included, I worked with NASA, not for...I was always a naval officer. And there were a few occasions where Mission Control thought I was getting a little testy. I said, "Well, I'm captain of a ship .... I'm in command here. You are advising me .... do not order me." And that goes on for every man who has command of a ship.

Fran Foley:

Sure.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

It's something you aspire to ....

Fran Foley:

Sure.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

..... as you go through all the evolution of a junior officer, a middle range officer, a senior officer. And so NASA didn't grow up at that time, then they made the mistake of not selling themselves, as I was trying to do with Cronkite.

Fran Foley:

Um-hmm. Well, let me ask you this, because I want to spend a little bit of time and get your opinions and your thoughts on it. The unfortunate tragedies that have happened with .... with ....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Apollo I, as we called it.

Fran Foley:

... Apollo ....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Yeah.

Fran Foley:

.... flight and the Shuttle ... the Shuttles .... what's your opinion .... what's your thoughts on those? Could .... is there any blame to lay anywhere or is there .... this is just something that happens as you become pioneers in various aspects?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Well, Apollo I occurred because we were in a hurry. We took short cuts. We had what we call "gold fever." And "gold fever" goes back through all kinds of life ..... carrier pilots checking a propeller airplane before they launch, they have a little disturbance with the magneto, it's o.k., launch me. That's called "gold fever." You might very well go in the drink. All those variables also came to a head during what became the Apollo I disaster. Grissom, who was primed, I was back up and there were a few occasions where both of us were pretty well sick of the expedient way we were doing things. As a result of that accident, we learned to settle down and work that astronaut-engineer team even closer. And that's where that other engineer came in. It became very personal in contrast to where they were before Gus lost his life and the other two. The result of it was, of course, that they had a couple things went wrong. We had a pure oxygen environment pressurized to sea level pressure, so the gas would not leak in, it would leak out. It's a little bit more .... you could take a spark and blow anything up in there. We just lucked out until that point in time. So we made changes in that and the hatch and had a very good spacecraft as a result. And every Apollo spacecraft functioned perfectly. We had one problem with Apollo 13 where the .... a tank had been pressurized .... overpressurized once and failed on that flight. That was a mistake. That was the only mistake that happened all during that Apollo series. Shuttle ended up with Challenger, they launched it by making a mistake. They had not tested the solid rocket engines or the solid rocket O-rings at exceedingly low temperatures and it was very cold at the launch pad. Those O-rings failed .... they lost Challenger.

Fran Foley:

Was this because you think they were in a hurry or subcontractor problems?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

They were more in a hurry and didn't pay attention to all the variables. The tower, the tower that we launched from, was similar to the one that we launched from in my Apollo flight. They had a different tower later for the Apollo .... Saturn 5 .... ours was the Saturn I-B. But whenever it is really cold, water will condense up there and freeze on their deck plates and your recovery from a problem is to run out on the deck plate and you've got a slide wire .... that same kind of slide wire they use on oil platforms. The crew of Challenger had so much ice up there, they couldn't use it as an escape mode. Not that that was supposed to happen ....

Fran Foley:

Right.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

.... but that was one of the planned escape modes. That same mission was being encouraged by then President Reagan for the school teacher to talk to all the little kids in school. So all of that was pushing on NASA and then it goes all the way down hill to where a launch conductor says, "Its o.k. So it's cold? It's cold .... we can launch." They never checked with Thiokol, the solid rocket guys, or the O-ring people, about whether those O-rings would fail at low temperature.

Fran Foley:

So this all has to do with really the NASA personnel as opposed to Thiokol the other .....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

It's all called "gold fever."

Fran Foley:

Yeah. And the same way with this last disaster.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Yeah, they got it, ate them. The Columbia accident was still gold fever because they had 20 or more incidents of foam hitting the airplane .... the Shuttle. And finally they got caught.

Fran Foley:

Um-hmm.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

I never have been a fan of Shuttle because it doesn't have an escape system at all.

Fran Foley:

I think the new one will, don't you?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

No, no way. Well, but in the launch and then go into orbit with the Space Station and rendezvous with it and then repair it, if it can be done. But when you lift off in Shuttle, you're screwed. In Mercury you have an ejection tower .... a rocket tower. In Gemini you have an ejection seat. In Apollo you had an escape tower. All three you could get out.

Fran Foley:

Um-hmm.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

That's not the case in Shuttle .... and that's what happened to Columbia ..... there's no way you could get out.

Fran Foley:

Right. When you were ....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

With Challenger they couldn't get out.

Fran Foley:

When you were on the Mercury mission, what was it like ..... that first splash-down?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

That was very, very ..... the view was gorgeous .... the parachute. I also landed in the Pacific near Midway Island and two local guys in what they called UDT .... now SEALS .... parachuted out and put this inflatable collar around the spacecraft. This is one of my other favorite space stories. These are salty combatants .... the SEALS of the Corps today .... and they're there to insure that the spacecraft doesn't sink because Grissom had lost his. And the carrier is now coming closer and there's a boat coming in and the helicopter coming in, and one of them is standing on the collar, hanging on to the side of the spacecraft and I could talk to him because there's a hole up on the top where the panels had been removed. I hear this unbelievable splashing, yelling and screaming. All of a sudden everything lurches and this other guy in the water leaps up on the top and I said, "What in the hell is going on out there?" "I saw the biggest jellyfish of my life here in the Pacific. It's unbelievable." "What color was it?" "Orange and white." "You never saw a parachute under water before?" These two veterans of combat. ... this is in 1962.

Fran Foley:

Never saw a parachute under water.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

It deployed completely and of course it looked like a big jellyfish to him.

Fran Foley:

That's funny.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

It was. Gemini...I talked about lift-off .... the clock has started. The second attempt. ... the first attempt, the target didn't make it into orbit. . . .that we were supposed to rendezvous and dock with. The second attempt, the spacecraft started .... the rocket propulsion system .... and it shut down. I had no ... .1 knew then I had not lifted off, yet the clock had started. All the electronic circuits said we lifted off. If that had in fact happened and we settled back, we would have blown up. And the .... then the thing to do by mission rules was to eject. But I knew in my soul, in my body, that we had not lifted off and Tom Stafford, with me, said, "O.K., Wally, I buy it." We didn't eject. .... sat there breathing rather heavily .

Fran Foley:

Now during the time that .... on these various missions Gemini and Mercury and Apollo .... with the Russians was that of course the Russians were trying to beat us to space .

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Oh, sure.

Fran Foley:

Was there a sense that .... at NASA that .... I imagine it was extremely competitive .....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Oh, yeah.

Fran Foley:

.. .. now was there a sense that this was the .... the real mission is to beat the Russians?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Yeah, of course. I think that's what ultimately ended up. The age of Apollo, in my mind, really convinced the Soviets that they could not compete with us and when Reagan .... then President Reagan said, "We have a system a strategic defense initiative," which everybody calls "Star Wars" the Soviets .... and I've heard that from them since .... conceded. By then we'd landed on the Moon and came back .... that they couldn't do that. And if Reagan said that, he could do that, too. That put them down. That is a truer combatant thing .... the first event that occurred was my Gemini mission ..... we did the rendezvous. They were not able to do that for many, many years later. They had a man up, they had a woman up and Valentina Tereshkova had never done anything but a parachute jump ..... didn't fly or anything ... .it was just pure PR. I got to know Alexi Leonov quite well, he's a very good friend .... and Vykovskiy, who were on Apollo Syouz, with Slayton and Tom Stafford, my former co-pilot, and Vance Brand. That's where I got to know a lot about the Soviets.

Fran Foley:

Um-hmm. What do you think about this current thing with the Russians where for $20 million they'll take you as a passenger?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

It breaks my heart to see they need the money .... that' s all it is. I think there's a fellow that's trying to go up now .... has another 20 mil ....

Fran Foley:

Um-hmm.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

They had two .... Tito, I think was the first one.

Fran Foley:

Tito was the first one.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

And then somebody from South Africa and now this other fellow has a project he wants to do, I guess.

Fran Foley:

Um-hmm.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

The missions are so complicated and so many people trying to get up there that it's not fair to sell it to the so-called highest bidder. The .... the competition is still keen .... even more so now because they're not getting any flights, and a lot of people get a little bit bored with sitting around. They're all imaginative, highly enthusiastic people and to have them sit around for years waiting for a flight is kind of cruel.

Fran Foley:

Now after you left the space program, you went on to do what?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

I had a whole series of different businesses, yeah.

Fran Foley:

So now are you still involved in any way with NASA or as a consultant or .... ?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Not with NASA, though we're called in once and awhile for an event.

Fran Foley:

We have .... which I'm very proud of .... the seven of us formed what was called the Mercury Foundation, then we made it the Mercury Scholarship Foundation. Now we call it the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. And with giving speeches and other charitable events, we now have .... this is unreal. .... 20 students a year at $10,000 each ..... $200,000 a year out of our foundation for scholarships. We pick them up at junior level in college or university. We have nothing to do with picking the people .... we just assign people to do that. We arrange or provide the money. And we have over $2 million in our bank account for this project, so we're working with a company called Delaware North that runs the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center and with enough attendance at our Astronaut Hall of Fame, we have funded now almost ..... a little more than $200,000 a year to support our scholarship fund. That's the best plaque I'll ever have.

Fran Foley:

That's wonderful.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

We've had over 42 go on to doctorate.

Fran Foley:

Wow. That's wonderful.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Isn't that a good feeling?

Fran Foley:

That is great.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

So we're very happy with that.

Fran Foley:

And .... well, I won't go through all the companies that you have been associated with .... and obviously a tremendous amount of civic activities ....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Yeah, I learned the word eleemosynary. Do you know that word?

Fran Foley:

What was the word?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

E-l-e-e-m-o-s-y-n-a-r-y, eleemosynary.

Fran Foley:

No.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

I was in one of those publicly held companies as an outside director and the president and chairman said, "We need about $700,000 for this project," and we said, "No way." And this president, whose being denied this money .... not for him, but for the company, said, "This is not a damned eleemosynary organization." We all nodded our heads sagely. The first coffee break we go out ..... there's 20 dictionaries opened to "E." It means charitable.

Fran Foley:

I just learned something new. You're never too old ....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

A new word ... .isn't that fun? Yeah.

Fran Foley:

Now one thing I do want to get on the record is all of the .... your Navy awards and everything. So I'll let you .... I'll let you read them off because there's so many.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Oh, the senior one, of course, is Distinguished Service Medal.

Fran Foley:

Um-hmm.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Then there are three Distinguished Flying Cross, two of those were from the Air Force for combat; two Air Medals were from the Air Force for combat; what is that? NASA Distinguished Service Medal and NASA Exceptional Service Medal; National Defense, Korean War; World War II Victory, American Theater. There's some more down at the bottom here. Navy Occupation Medal, China Service Medal, United Nations, Korean Presidential Unit Citation. What's interesting .... which doesn't show on here .... .1 earned Air Force wings flying combat with the Air Force and President Marco of the Philippines presented me with Filipino wings and Chang Kai Shek tried to give me Chinese wings, but that didn't qualify.

Fran Foley:

Well, you've had ....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

And of course I have Navy Astronaut wings, as well.

Fran Foley:

Yes, I would think so.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

They are different, by the way. The shield in the middle of the wing has little, teeny, tiny ... .it's like a star with the three tails on it and that's an astronaut wing.

Fran Foley:

Um-hmm.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

So they're different than the Naval Aviator wing or the Air Force wing. That little emblem that we wear in our lapel. ... this is an emblem .... Gordon Cooper and I designed and it's been accepted as the emblem for all the wings for Air Force or Navy wings on the shield, so we're pretty proud of that.

Fran Foley:

I noticed .... I don't have it in front of me ..... but all of the mission patches and what not. I hope you saved some of those ....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Oh, yeah .

Fran Foley:

..... because they're quite collectable today.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

They are. There they are.

Fran Foley:

Here they are.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

The Mercury one is a phony .... some one made that up.

Fran Foley:

Oh, really?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

And the Gemini patch is wrong, but the Apollo patch is exactly right.

Fran Foley:

Yeah, well they all have your--

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

The lady who painted the Sigma VII on here, her name is Vidi .... Cece Vidi. Just recently I heard from here because we autographed the painting she did on our spacecraft, or a copy of it. Glenn Carpenter and I had her do it back in those early days. She has a brother here who lives here in Del Mar.

Fran Foley:

Oh, really?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

I met his wife .... Patty did .... just a couple of days ago at our workout place .... the physical fitness thing in Fairbanks Ranch. And she is the wife of the brother of this lady who painted .... the two of them had not seen each other for 54 years. They were adopted by different families.

Fran Foley:

Incredible.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

And she just recently found her brother here within the last week or so.

Fran Foley:

That's amazing. The .... well, as you know .... probably you among all other people know .... is that it's a small world.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

That's exactly the point, yeah. Now I do know it's small. Very good, Fran.

Fran Foley:

I had to get that in.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

You got one .... that's a plus.

Fran Foley:

And so you have what, one daughter?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

One son, one daughter .....

Fran Foley:

And where are they?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

. . . . and one yellow Lab.

Fran Foley:

And one yellow Lab. Where are your son and daughter?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Son's in San Francisco, daughter's in Vail painting.

Fran Foley:

Um-hmm. And their names are .... ?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Suzanne. My son is Three Sticks .... the third.

Fran Foley:

Three Sticks the Third .... what does that mean?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

When you're the third you have three ....

Fran Foley:

Oh ....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

... . all thirds are called "Three Sticks."

Fran Foley:

I'm sure they must be very proud of you.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Oh, they are. My son or daughter, neither, became interesting in aviation.

Fran Foley:

Well, no, that's understandable, you know.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Isn't that amazing? Well, I've got one anecdote for you. Chuck Yeager always talks to me about how great he was as a test pilot .... we're friends ....

Fran Foley:

Um-hmm.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

.... we tease each other all the time. He said, "Schirra, you were in diapers when I started flying." I said, "Chuck, you're in deep trouble because I know you're two months younger than I. But first off, when did you first fly, Chuck?" "Oh, about 15 or 16." "Chuck, Mother and Dad barnstormed in a Curtis Jenny after World War I. Mother got out on the wing to attract people to come out and fly with Dad on the airplane, so technically she was a wing walker. She stopped being a wing walker when I was in the hangar. Now when did you first fly, Chuck?"

Fran Foley:

You were flying before you even knew about it .

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Isn't that fun? Yeah, before my birthday.

Fran Foley:

Right. Is there anything that you want to add that I have either overlooked or that comes to mind about this incredible career ....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Boy, I've enjoyed talking with you. I think we've hit the good points, really.

Fran Foley:

O.K., good.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Other than that you owe me $15 in _____.

Fran Foley:

And I couldn't owe it to a better guy.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

I'm local.

Fran Foley:

I want to thank you on behalf of the Historical Society .....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Oh, it's fun to get it down. Of course, I'll love to have a copy of this.

Fran Foley:

You will be definitely getting a copy. You've had an amazing career and certainly one of the most significant of the 20th Century.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Well, it's amazing. If I'd gone to West Point, none of that would have happened.

Fran Foley:

Well, yeah, it shows you that ....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

How those little things happen.West Point, got me on the right path later.

Fran Foley:

Life is made up of choices and ....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Oh, very good.

Fran Foley:

.. .. if we make right ones, you know, it's helpful.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

It actually amazes me how you can walk down the wrong road or the wrong step ....

Fran Foley:

Is there anything that you'd like to say to your family before we close about your service in the Navy or as your .... and your service as one of the pioneer astronauts? Anything that you want to say about the military in general? Do you have any thoughts and anybody that you want to dedicate this tape to?

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

No, I think my children and future military people .... .life is very exciting and don't ever miss the chances of having that kind of opportunity where you can be proud of yourself and proud of your country.

Fran Foley:

Um-hmm.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

It's a good feeling.

Fran Foley:

And to young people who might be listening .... who might be entertaining a career in the military or in NASA or any other governmental agencies ....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

I think science and engineering has to be brought to attention. I just recently found in China, where they launched young Lei Wei ..... now I've lived in China I can say this .... they have over 600,000 students applying for engineering and science a year. That shows the space program and engineering and science is not a lost art ... .it will draw people out again. And this is what NASA has to learn how to do ... .is to sell the concept of growing up and getting an operational assignment in high tech.

Fran Foley:

Right. And it also goes back to our schools to educate.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

It does. The schools are more interested in business and law and not enough in medicine, either, by the way.

Fran Foley:

Um-hmm.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

And it's rather a sad commentary, I think.

Fran Foley:

Yeah, and especially in science and engineering .

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Oh ....

Fran Foley:

We're going to be way behind the 8 ball if we're not careful.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

We very well could be because a lot of the engineers are dying off. Now those kids who were trying to order me to do things have already retired.

Fran Foley:

Um-hmm.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

And of course all my contemporaries are retired and most of them are dying off. All the people I got to love and work with .... they're almost all gone, except for that Apollo engineer.

Fran Foley:

Well, it's really thrilling for me to talk to you because you're certainly one of the great pioneers in space and during the period of time that you were not only in the Navy, but you know, as I said, you're really a 20th Century hero in my book.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Well, I had fun with it. It's kind of hard to realize that, but I appreciate it.

Fran Foley:

Well, it's well deserved and well meant. So again, I thank you so much for taking the time to ....

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Well, glad to do it. How are we doing?

Fran Foley:

We're doing .... we're right on target.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

Oh, good, good.

Fran Foley:

So thank you so much, Wally. I really appreciate it.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.:

My pleasure, Fran. Thank you.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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