DUNKIRK, N.Y. — Tom McTigue, of Dunkirk, is proud of his service to his country.
He joined the Navy in 1967. Two years later that decision would result in the experience of a lifetime. A chance to be the welcome wagon for the men who had just taken one giant leap for mankind. "You never really expect you'll be part of history and then, before you know it you're in the middle of it," he said.
McTigue had just been assigned to the USS Hornet, working on the flight deck as part of the ship's C-1-A crew, loading and unloading carrier on-board delivery planes.
It was an exciting work environment. Then came July 24th, 1969, four days after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. "We were in our flight suits that day because we really didn't know if we were going to have to fly anyone off...do anything that had to happen, we had to be ready," McTigue recalled.
The USS Hornet's assignment was to pick up the astronauts, their capsule and cargo once it splashed down upon its return to earth. "I was on the flight deck, I could see the capsule come down, I could see the helicopters around the capsule."
Tom watched as the chopper crews secured the capsule, and picked up Armstrong, Aldrin and Michael Collins, then moved the capsule right alongside the ship so it could be hoisted up by a crane to the deck.
Over the next couple of days, McTigue was able to look over the capsule up close, and see the astronauts as they sat in an isolation chamber, which was actually a modified Airstream camper. Then, he and his crew packed up the moon rocks, and other artifacts for flight to Johnson Island and ultimately Mission Control in Houston.
Tom kept a scrapbook to document all he could of this history-making mission, including the arrival of the president himself. He was able to shake the hand of Richard Nixon as he did his part to help make aviation history.