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GRISSOM AIR RESERVE BASE, Ind. -- Scott Grissom, left, and Lowell Grissom unveil a special brass plaque in honor of Lt. Col. Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom during a base rededication ceremony held here Sept. 30. Scott is the son of Gus and Lowell is his brother. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Mark R. W. Orders-Woempner)
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Base remembers 'Gus' during rededication ceremony

Posted 10/12/2011   Updated 10/12/2011 Email story   Print story


by Tech. Sgt. Mark R. W. Orders-Woempner
434th ARW Public Affairs

10/12/2011 - GRISSOM AIR RESERVE BASE, Ind.  -- Fifty years ago a Hoosier hero strapped himself into a rocket and blasted off becoming the second American to travel in space.

This year, Grissom Air Reserve Base, Ind., took a moment to remember that man, Lt. Col. Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, during a special rededication ceremony held here in newly renovated Gus Grissom Hall Sept. 30.

Colonel Grissom, a native of Mitchell, Ind., and one of America's original Mercury 7 astronauts, had become a hero and legend in the hearts and minds of many Americans when he first lifted off the launch pad in his Liberty Bell spacecraft on July 21, 1961.

Four years later, Grissom took to space again with fellow astronaut Lt. John Young aboard the Gemini spacecraft Molly Brown. During this flight, the two conducted the first orbital flight path change, paving the way for future Gemini missions.

After his success with both the Liberty Bell and the Molly Brown, Grissom was selected to command the first Apollo mission with Ed White and Roger Chaffee. Apollo was the space program aimed at landing man on the moon, a goal Colonel Grissom not only saw as dangerous, but also of extreme importance.

"If we die, we want people to accept it," he said in 1962 when discussing the conquest of space. "We're in a risky business, and we hope that if anything happens to us it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life."

Unfortunately, that risk took hold during a launch pad test on Jan. 27, 1967, as a flash fire broke out onboard the Apollo 1 spacecraft killing all three astronauts. America mourned the lost heroes and the decision was made to remember Grissom's sacrifice by renaming an Air Force Base in his honor.

On May 12, 1968, Bunker Hill Air Force Base was renamed Grissom Air Force Base. The base was once again renamed in 1994 to Grissom Air Reserve Base as the Air Force Reserve took over host-base responsibilities.

The base's rededication ceremony began with a video showing the original 1968 renaming of the base followed by a presentation of the Colors by Grissom's joint honor guard and the singing of the national anthem by the Peru High School Swing Choir. (CLICK HERE to see the 1968 video footage.)

The Peru choir went on to sing two more patriotic songs followed by the Peru High School Jazz Band.

In a tribute to Colonel Grissom, Indiana State Representative William Friend then read an Indiana House of Representatives Speaker's proclamation.

Keeping with the theme of remembrance, the Purdue University Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps Honor Guard performed a flag folding ceremony followed by a rifle salute and playing of Taps by Grissom's honor guard to remember all who sacrificed their lives in service to the United States. This was especially fitting as Colonel Grissom was a Purdue graduate.

Colonel Grissom's oldest son then took the stage to talk about what his father meant to his family and how he changed the world of aviation and space exploration.

"Our family is honored that the Air Force, its military servicemembers and the great people of Indiana continue to fight for freedom, and that my father's name is proudly embossed on your letterhead," he said.

Scott, who Colonel Grissom named his Korean War F-86 'Scotty' after, then took a moment to reflect on a conversation he had with his dad many years ago.

"When I was a small boy I said, 'Dad, when I grow up I want to be a pilot,'" he recalled."He said in response, 'You can't do both.'"

The audience erupted with laughter.

"For all of you who are in love with aviation I will simply say to you never grow up," he said, addressing Grissom's Airmen. "Keep that spirit of youth in everything you do; life is too short."

Lowell, Colonel Grissom's youngest brother, echoed Scott in saying that flying was his brother's life, and that he would've loved that an Air Force Base was named in his honor.

"It's heartwarming to see people who still remember Gus and what he did," he added.

Col. William T. "Tim" Cahoon, 434th Air Refueling Wing commander, then addressed the audience, talking about Colonel Grissom as a hero and why he thought it necessary to remember him in a permanent way.

"I remember the excitement. It was every little boy's dream to become an astronaut," Cahoon said as he recalled watching Grissom and other astronauts lift off into space as a child. "We don't have enough heroes today."

The ceremony wrapped up as Cahoon invited both Grissom relatives to unveil a bronze memorial plaque that was installed later that day at the base's parade grounds.

After the ceremony, Scott and Lowell, along with other Indiana civic leaders and elected officials took part in base tours that included stops at a KC-135R Stratotanker flight simulator, a KC-135 undergoing maintenance repair and Grissom's radar approach control facility, which controls all civilian and military air traffic between Chicago and Indianapolis, going as far west as Lafayette, up to 10,000 feet.

Grissom Air Reserve Base is home to the 434th ARW, the largest KC-135 unit in the Air Force Reserve Command.

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