HONORING AMERICA’S FINEST

By: Nancy Marchbanks

On Saturday, November 13th, we will once again have the opportunity to come together to honor our Veterans through the Gulf Coast Veterans Parade. The pageantry begins at 11:00 a.m in downtown Biloxi, with distinguished Grand Marshall presiding over the festivities, Mr. Fred Haise. Haise was born and raised in the beautiful city on the beach, and proceeded to become a NASA Astronaut. He served as the Lunar Module Pilot on the aborted Apollo 13 Space Mission, which celebrates the 40th Anniversary of this historical event this year. In addition, this is the 10th Anniversary of the GC Veterans Parade, which is wholeheartedly dedicated to all the men and women who served in every branch of the American Armed Forces.
The parade has been recognized by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs for the past 3 years as a Veterans Day Regional Site. If it were not for these brave men and women, who fought so gallantly in so many wars over the course of our nations history, we would not enjoy the freedoms we have today. Every single one of us owes them a debt of gratitude. Attending this important event is a lovely way to say “thank you” for the sacrifices they have made and to show your continued support for those who are currently serving overseas.
Grand Marshall, Fred Haise has lived a remarkable life and will always be one of Mississippi’s favorite sons. He is currently on the Board of the Infinity Science Center Inc and could not be more proud of his involvement with the project. “This state-of-the-art Science Museum could literally change the course of young peoples lives. It will make a wonderful destination for school field trips,” he said. Infinity at NASA Space Center will be located adjacent to the State of Mississippi Welcome Center, off the first exit of I-10 as you enter from Louisiana, or it is off the last exit as you leave Mississippi.
When Haise graduated from high school, he attended Perkinston Jr. College with a major in Journalism. The Korean War was in full swing at the time, and it beckoned Haise to serve his country. His father urged him to enter the Military, but with the ultimate goal of acquiring a Commission. The only program that was available to Haise, due to his young age was the Naval Aviation Cadet Program in Pensacola, Florida. He was only 18 years old with 2 years of college behind him. “I had no interest in planes or flying at the time, and I had never been in a plane before in my life!  But from the first moment I got into a cockpit…I loved it and knew it would be my new career path,” Haise said.
After finishing four years in the Military, Haise was in two different Marine Fighter Squadrons. He found himself at a crossroads and began doing research on what he would do next. He made the decision to become a Test Pilot to further use his flying skills. In order to do that however, he needed an Engineering degree. A Test Pilot is really a part of the Design Team. “We are talking about the instruments, the cockpit layout, and everything in between, Haise said. He went back to school at the University of Oklahoma for an Aeronautical Engineering degree and graduated with honors.
Haise has flown over 80 types of aircraft during his illustrious 20 year career.  Every kind has different handling qualities. A Fighter is more agile and more maneuverable than a Transport for example. “My favorite Fighter is the North American F-86 Saber jet. It is the one most noted for the Korean War when it went against the MIG in combat. I have flown many, many Transports including the Gulfstream, F-27, the Faulkner, and the Jumbo 747, but my favorite is the old Douglas DC-3. It actually broke in the airline industry. It came out in the early 30’s and was used throughout WWII for parachute jumps. It was a very dependable and rugged airplane, and I began flying them when I was a Test Pilot for NASA,” he said. Haise has also flown helicopters and has some experience with Bombers.
Most importantly, Haise has the distinction of being the first pilot to ever fly the Space Shuttle. He commanded five of the eight test flights that were done on the Space Shuttle Enterprise, when the shuttle was launched from the back of a 747. One member of the crew that flew with Fred Haise on these incredible journeys was another Mississippi resident by the name of Richard H. Truly. Truly grew up in Meridian. “A little known fact is that Enterprise never flew a mission, without a Mississippian on board,” Haise said with great pride.
The Space Program has changed completely over the years. Fred Haise left NASA in 1979 – a lifetime ago.  At the time, in order to be considered for the program, applicants were filtered through the Military.  All candidates were selected through each particular branch of service that they were in – the Navy decided on the Navy applicants, the Air Force chose the Air Force applicants, and so on. These applications were then submitted to NASA as potential candidates. Haise was a Test Pilot at the time, so he applied as a civilian.  After all applications were submitted, (it was about 600 when Fred applied) NASA continued to investigate the applicants and by the process of elimination, the final group was decided upon.
The next phase was a battery of physical examinations that lasted one full week at Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. Based on the findings, some were asked to continue on, the others were eliminated. Written examinations where the next requirement, and if you did well, you were asked to go before the Board for a formal interview. “They wanted to know about your character, how you carried yourself, they assessed your demeanor, and how were you able to cope with things…you were really in the hot seat,” Haise said.
Haise got the call and was notified he was chosen to be a part of the Apollo Space Program, and was elated.  His title was and continued to be, Aerospace Research Pilot and Engineer. At that time there was no such thing as Astronaut in the Civil Service Registry. “I looked at this opportunity as a way to use different propulsion systems and to go a little higher in the sky. The processes and the methodology of flying a space craft is very similar to that of flying an airplane,” Haise said.
Haise feels very fortunate that he played such an important role in the Apollo Space Program, and worked in such a peak time for Air Craft testing. Apollo was the premiere Space Program in America. “I am sure that there are many very fine Test Pilots in the Military today, with the same back ground and level of expertise as I had, but there is no Space Program anymore. I am chagrin that we did not move on from Apollo with the same level of energy but you have to have many things aligned right for everything to come together. The threat from the Russians made President Kennedy and the Congress want to have the Space Program to challenge the Russians for supremacy during that time. Going to the moon was a way to prove technological superiority,” Haise said. He remains hopeful that one day the Space Program will flourish again, and new frontiers will be explored.
When asked what advice he would give to the youth of America, Haise had this to say. “Anyone beyond high school must have a goal. You must think about what you enjoy and what you are good at. Try to align that with an occupation that will best use your natural talent. If you do that, you will generally enjoy the work so much more. We actually work most of our adult lives, so you want to choose what you are best suited for and what makes you the happiest.”
For more information about the Veterans Day Parade, please visit the website at http://www.msveteransparade.com
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