Mission Of This Blog

The overall mission statement of this blog is to share many unique topics of this blogger's interest. Topics include (but are not limited to): Travel & Photojournalism, Nature & Wildlife Preservation, Americana, Local Places Of Interest, Southern Cultural Heritage, Local History of the South Carolina Upstate, Confederate Heritage Preservation & Awareness, Science & Science Fiction, Astronomy & Night Sky Photography, Literacy & Writing, Southern Cuisine, Popular Culture & Philosophy, Fandom, Local Folklore ....as well as various other topics explained from the blogger's point of view. The following website contains the UNCENSORED thoughts and opinions of a Southern-born country writer from upstate South Carolina - the living, beating heart of the great American Southland!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

In Memory Of The 30th Anniversary Of The Challenger - Tribute To The Fallen Pioneers Of Space Travel

The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and "slipped the surly bonds of earth" to "touch the face of God." 
                                  ~US President Ronald Reagan addressing the nation on January 28, 1986 

Space shuttle Challenger (OV-099) Mission STS-51-L crew: (front row left to right) Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair; (back row left to right) Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik. Photo courtesy of NASA/ 1986.

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the deadly accident that took the lives of the crew of the NASA space shuttle orbiter Challenger (OV-099)

I was nine years old and home from school on the morning of January 28, 1986. I was playing a game of some sort with my sister in the family living room when my dad came into the room stunned and told everyone present that the space shuttle Challenger exploded on television. 

I remember feeling a little bit of cold in my stomach at the news. My grandparents quickly turned on the television set to the breaking news story. One of the reasons that me and my sister were home that day was school being let out for teachers work day, and the launch of the space shuttle mission - which was to have included what should have been the first civilian school teacher into orbit. In fact, I recall that we were assigned homework to write a report on the launch. 

My sister, Olivia, was in probably worse shock than I was over the news. She was in complete denial at the time that the crew died in the explosion (later it would be learned that the crew did in fact survive for a short time following the breakup of the shuttle). I will never forget my teary-eyed seven year old sister saying, "No, teachers can't die! They're teachers!" I too was somewhat disillusioned to learn at such a young age that teachers were not invincible. To me educators were tough - and at times grumpy - people, but regardless people who seemed to be above concepts like being moral human beings. 

There were two things other than these moment that stood out for me on that terrible day in American history: the constant replay of the explosion itself, the fireball and smoke trails; and the address to the nation given by President Ronald Reagan. 

Even as a child, the words Reagan spoke about the importance of the space program and the crew of the space shuttle and others before them as the first pioneers into the next great frontier for humanity stuck with me. He spoke of the tragedy, of the dedication of the men and women lost in the disaster, and quoted from the poem High Flight by John Gillespie McGee Jr. He also reaffirmed that mankind would continue to move forward to conquer space.

The loss of the seven crew members was a shock to the nation, and would delay the US space program for several years. Yet just as the past sacrifices of the first great pioneers of space travel inspired those seven brave American men and women; the memory of the sacrifices made by the crew of the Challenger lives on today in the dedication of those who continue to serve as astronauts, technicians and engineers designing the crafts that will someday take humanity beyond our pale blue dot and into the solar system, and possibly beyond in some distant day. 

This blog post is dedicated to the honored memories and sacrifices of those pioneers of humanity's space program tragically killed while helping to advance humanity's scientific knowledge of the universe. Their noble sacrifices to that service will be remembered as human pioneers continue our march into space in the decades, centuries, and possibly the  millennium to come.

Lest We Forget. 

Valentin Bondarenko (Ukraine, USSR) 
Killed in an altitude trainer accident on March 23, 1961.

Killed in a training jet crash on October 31, 1964. 

Gemini 9 Crew
Killed in a training jet crash on February 28, 1966. 

Apollo 1 Crew
Killed in a spacecraft test accident on January 27, 1967. 

Vladimir Komarov (Russia, USSR)
Soyuz 1 Commander
Killed on impact from re-entry parachute deployment failure on April 24, 1967. 

Killed in training jet crash on October 5, 1967. 

X-15 Flight 3-65-97
Killed in training flight crash on November 15, 1967. 

Killed in training jet crash on December 8, 1967.

Yuri Gagarin (Russia, USSR)
Vladimir Seryogin (Russia, USSR)
Soyuz 3 Crew
Killed in training jet crash on March 27, 1968. 

Georgi Dobrovolski (Ukraine, USSR) 
Viktor Patsayev (Kazakh, USSR - modern-day Republic of Kazakhstan)
Vladislav Volkov (Russia, USSR)
Soyuz 11 Crew
Killed by decompression in space on June 30, 1971. 

Ronald McNair (USA) 
Space Shuttle Challenger (OV-099) Crew
Killed during explosion during the mission launch over the Atlantic Ocean on January 28, 1986.

Sergei Vozovikov (Russian Federation)
Killed during water recovery training on July 11, 1993. 
Ilan Ramon (Israel)
Space Shuttle Columbia (OV-102) Crew
Killed in vehicular disintegration upon re-entry of Earth's atmosphere on February 1, 2003. 

Killed in spacecraft flight test crash on October 31, 2014. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Lee-Jackson Day 2016 In Lexington, VA.

On Saturday, January 16, I had the honor to attend the annual Lee-Jackson Day Services and Parade in Lexington, Virginia. 

Lee-Jackson Day is a holiday recognized across many US states in the American Southland. The holiday is celebrated in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. In Texas, it is known as "Confederate Heroes Day." Lee-Jackson Day is honored as an official State holiday in the State of Virginia. 

The holiday was originally celebrated in Virginia in 1889 to honor the birthday of Confederate General Robert E. Lee who was born on January 19. 1807. The holiday was put into effect during the administration of Virginia Governor and former Confederate cavalry general Fitzhugh Lee, a nephew of the famous American general. In 1904 the holiday was changed to include a tribute to General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson who was born on January 21, 1824.

In 1983, the holiday was merged with the new Federal holiday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, as Lee-Jackson-King Day in Virginia. In 2000, Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore proposed splitting Lee-Jackson-King Day into two separate holidays after debate arose over whether the nature of the holiday which simultaneously celebrated the lives of Confederate generals and a civil rights icon was incongruous. The measure was approved and the two holidays are now celebrated separately.

Lee-Jackson Day has been honored in Lexington since the late 19th century. The United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), the United Confederate Veterans (UCV), and the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) have sponsored events to honor Lee and Jackson in Lexington. It seems only befitting that various celebrations and events have been held to honor the birthdays of the generals in their final home and resting place: Jackson is buried in Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery near the Virginia Military Institute where Jackson taught before the War Between The States (1861- 1865) and Lee is buried in a family crypt beneath Lee Memorial Chapel on the grounds of Washington and Lee University. Today the event is held near the state holiday and sponsored by the Stonewall Brigade Camp #1296 Sons of Confederate Veterans.

The trip to Lexington was one long monsoon the whole way from South Carolina. Luckily I had my music CDs and movie soundtracks to keep me occupied the whole trip. Still the sight of the Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina and Virginia, even in the rain, never fails to marvel this Sandlapper from upstate South Carolina. 

I found a small hotel near Natural Bridge, Virginia a few miles outside of Lexington and stayed the night. Thankfully it stopped raining close to midnight and the temperature did not drop very low as it had in previous visits to Virginia for Lee-Jackson Day. 

The next morning I woke just in time to get an outstanding shot of the sunrise coming over the Appalachians. 

Good Morning Lee-Jackson Day!

Then I made my way to the lovely historic town of Lexington, Virginia where I parked my car in a nearby parking garage. I then put on the Confederate gray uniform that I wear for these occasions out of respect for my Confederate ancestor and made my way to Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery.  

There I ran into several friends and fellow Confederate descendants that I know from social media, and others that I had great pleasure in meeting for the first time in person beneath the gravesite of Lieutenant General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson CSA and his family. The annual memorial service and parade draws Confederate descendants from all over the American Southland.

The Lee-Jackson Day service began with a procession of color bearers and living history reenactors marching in and lining up to the left of the Jackson family plot. Following opening prayers and the story of the Jackson grave, members of the Virginia Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), Military Order of the Stars & Bars (MOSB), and Order of the Confederate Rose (OCR) placed over a dozen flowered wreaths at the foot of the grave. 

Following this the Confederate reenactors of the 5th Virginia Infantry fired a three volley salute to Jackson and the other Confederate veterans buried in the cemetery. Then the assembled group sang Dixie and recited in unison the Lord's Prayer, after which there was a closing prayer and the assembled group was dismissed to prepare for the parade through downtown Lexington.

I am pleased to report that this year the number of people who stood to watch the parade and cheer those assembled was double what it was the previous year - in large part due to the somewhat milder weather. Several cadets from the nearby Virginia Military Institute where Jackson once served as a teacher prior to the War Between The States and some students from Washington and Lee University came by to pay respect to their Confederate heritage and Southern identity.  

Overall it was a great trip and I managed to make the nearly 300 mile drive home before sunset. God truly blessed this day with good weather and the living descendants of the Confederate soldier again conducted themselves with honor in the city Lexington. God bless them and the good people of Lexington who likewise conducted themselves with honor.

Till next year, God willing. 

Yours truly standing in uniform with the Army of Norther Virginia battle flag of the type carried by my Confederate ancestor, a member of the 48th Alabama Infantry Regiment. The black rosette ribbon on my right shoulder has a button of the type my great-great-grandfather - on my dad's side - would have worn on his own uniform coat. I am always honored to represent him.
Ariel drone view of the memorial service at Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery.
Here is a photo of the front of the Lee-Jackson Day parade provided by my friend Miss Judy Smith. I was nearly halfway in the back on the left side.
The Stonewall Jackson House where he lived while he taught as a professor at VMI.