Connected then and now: St. Jude colleagues share moon-landing memories

image of St. Jude sign and moon

What were you doing when the Apollo 11 lunar module landed on the moon? Some St. Jude staff share their memories.

When the Apollo 11 lunar module landed on the surface of the Moon on July 20, 1969, hundreds of millions of people were gathered around TVs to catch a glimpse of history. After numerous setbacks and a decade of planning, the moon-landing was one of the greatest scientific achievements of humankind.

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital faculty and staff members are also part of a great scientific endeavor that is advancing cures and means of prevention for pediatric catastrophic diseases through research and treatment. The 1969 moon-landing was a collaboration of thousands of people with specialized talents and roles.

At St. Jude, more than 4,000 employees work in more than 100 departments and divisions toward a common goal each day. The moon-landing was an inspirational and memorable event for many St. Jude employees.

Gisele Hankins

Hankins’ father, Robert Beauregard, a rocket engineer for NASA in the 1960s, was directly involved with the Apollo 11 mission. Hankins’ family lived in Nassau Bay, Texas, which was about three miles from mission control in Clear Lake City. Her father knew the astronauts—Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins—and Hankins went to school with some of their children and with Danny Haney, the son of Paul Haney, who was the “Voice of NASA Mission Control.”

“The day of the moon-landing, our entire family was glued to our black-and-white TV set to watch. We knew we were seeing history in the making, and that my dad played a part,” Hankins said. “When the astronauts returned to Earth, no one knew if they would be carrying ‘moon cooties’ or not, so they were ushered into an Airstream quarantine unit. My dad took the eldest of us kids to Ellington Air Force Base to welcome the astronauts back.

“We were close enough to wave to our astronaut friends as they were transferred into the quarantine unit.”


Karen Flamand

Karen Flamand, RN, a nurse in the leukemia/lymphoma clinic, was playing outside with friends in Fort Ord, California, where her father was stationed in the Army. Her mother called her to come inside and watch the historic event. Flamand’s mother explained the historic significance of the event as she watched from her seat on the living room floor.

“There was only one TV in the house. It was grainy, but I remember thinking that was pretty cool,” Flamand said. “Looking back, I’m glad she told me to come in and pay attention to this important moment in history.”

Elizabeth Walker

Elizabeth Walker, content editor in Communications, watched the moon-landing at her grandparents’ house while the family celebrated her grandmothers’ birthday. She chronicles events and stories for the hospital in her work, but that day she recorded the event in a handwritten message that she has kept.

“The men have landed on the Moon for the first time in history. The ship is called Eagle,” Walker wrote. “We, Mother, Daddy, Granddaddy, Grandmother, Mark and I are watching it on TV in Ripley, Tennessee. We are having Grandmother’s birthday party.”

Darrell Gentry

Darrell Gentry, director of cloud applications in Research Information Services, was 6 years old and vaguely remembers that day.

“I can barely remember watching the moon-landing, but I do remember how important everyone thought it was. From discussions with my family, we had a crowd over at our house to watch it,” Gentry said. “My father’s cousin even brought over his color TV, which ended up being unnecessary since it was broadcast in black and white.”

Pat Streich

Pat Streich, an executive assistant in Genetics, remembers the excitement that permeated throughout the day. A high school senior at the time, Streich’s entire school watched the event in the school auditorium on a large projection screen.

“I could hardly contain my eagerness to see if a man could actually walk on the moon,” Streich said. “This was truly amazing—to look back now at all of the changes that have taken place, it still seems unimaginable that we were able to power a spacecraft with men who walked on the moon.”

Helen Stoller

Helen Stoller, compliance program manager in the Compliance Office, grew up on the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, where she remembers the live missile tests that launched just beyond her home and over the trees in her backyard. She doesn’t remember much about the Apollo landing, but it still brings back special memories.

“I only remember seeing that Neil Armstrong placed the flag on the moon years later when I was in school,” Stoller said. “It seemed ordinary, yet special, from my perspective as an USAF ‘brat.’”

Martine Roussel

Some St. Jude employees who did not watch the event on TV still have vivid memories of that time. Martine Roussel, PhD, a member of the Tumor Cell Biology Department, was in the jungle of Gabon in equatorial Africa where she was doing an internship at a Center for National Research outpost.

“After traveling on the Ogooue River in a pirogue for several hours, we stayed in a wooden cabin in the jungle. I remember listening to monkeys howling, crickets and birds chirping under a sky full of stars while at the same time listening to the radio reporting the moon-landing,” Roussel said. “The contrast between the two settings was striking, and the reason why I remember this time so vividly.”

Gary Bridgman

Gary Bridgman, content specialist in Communications, was a 5-year-old mission specialist on board a Chevrolet Impala, riding in the car with his parents as they drove from Memphis to his father’s hometown of Thomaston, Georgia. Bridgman missed the 3:17 Central time landing, but his father did sacrifice his loyalty to Esso (now Exxon) for one day, stopping at a Gulf gas station so Bridgman could have the paper model lunar module kit that the company was giving away.

“My dad always liked to talk about Apollo 11 from his own father’s perspective, how the world changed during his lifetime,” Bridgman said. “My grandfather joined the U.S. Cavalry during World War I. He was trained to fight on horseback, yet he lived to see people fly spaceships to and from another astronomical body.”

About the Author

Mike O’Kelly
Mike O’Kelly is a member of the Communications Department at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.