I HEARD THE VOICE OF AMERICA
YOU ARE INVITED TO ATTEND THE JOHNSON SPACE CENTER NOON PRAYER SERVICE FOR THE NYC VICTIMS was the e-mail message received Friday morning, September 14, 2001. The designated site, beneath the American Flag, near the NASA Road One entrance, was often chosen for NASA commemorative meetings. Memories returned of the 1987 Challenger anniversary fly-over held there. I could almost hear the deafening roar of those low flying T-38 jets, piloted by astronauts in honor of their fallen friends. Reaching still farther back another score of years, I recalled a similar gathering for Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. They, like those New Yorkers, were taken from us so suddenly and tragically.
President Bush had decreed an executive order encouraging such prayer services at Noon. Though my office, near the back of JSC, made the walk long and hot, the resolve of attending such gatherings in decades past remained. But this time something unique occurred: Weeks before, I'd been a volunteer at the annual JSC Open House. My contribution was a recreation of President John Kennedy's Rice Stadium Moon Race Speech. As a Rice student, I'd been present that September 12, 1962, almost 39 years ago to the day of the New York City tragedy. What an encouragement that message had been! As a result, I am in the twilight of a 37 year NASA career. The purpose of the five minute open house dramatization was to inspire youth as I had been so long ago.
The American flag used as the speech's backdrop remained in my office. Patriotism speaks of "the Voice of America" and "the Spirit of America" as vague terms describing our nation's strengths. But at 11:45 AM, Friday, September 14, 2001, I HEARD THE SPIRIT OF AMERICA'S VOICE. It said, "Jerry, I am telling you to march across the space center with that flag held high for all to see!" Immediately, I argued, "But everyone will see me and think me strange." And the VOICE countered, "That's exactly what I want everyone to see," adding, "Just to assure you this is ME, toss a coin…heads you go with my flag, tails leave it here." I countered, "But I don't have a coin." At once came the retort, "Get one out of the coffee can down the hall."
Of course, there was exactly one coin there, a Jefferson nickel. Catching the "flip" in my left hand, I slapped it down on the back of my right hand. HEADS IT WAS, and then I looked more closely. It said, IN GOD WE TRUST. There was no question what Spirit was speaking, and, likewise, whose was the Voice of America. So that I burst onto the NASA campus with the flag held high.
What I felt is too wonderful for description. Most certainly those soldiers on Iwo Jima felt it, and Armstrong and Aldrin felt it at Tranquility Base, and millions of Americans have felt it since September 11th, joining those who felt it that December 7th of 1941. Tears flowed freely as I half ran half walked to the prayer service, but the VOICE said, "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning."
A NASA photographer took the above photo during the singing of God Bless America. Days later, the photo appeared in the Roundup, Johnson Space Center's newspaper. Though my photo appeared, the caption was definitely written by the Spirit of America omitting my name. It said, "The Man Above shows His patriotism." What better statement could our Father who art in Heaven above make showing His patriotic love for America?