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The crew of Apollo 8 earned a place in history as the first men to leave Earth orbit, reach the Earth’s moon, orbit it and return safely to Earth. Many know the names of the heroes who manned the crew – Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot James Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders – but few know of the special role the USS Yorktown played in this historic mission.
As the carrier selected to recover the crew and capsule following their splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, the Yorktown and her crew were on standby in the early morning hours of December 27, 1968. Hundreds of the 1,650-man crew saw the re-entry of the spacecraft, traveling at seven miles per second through the re-entry zone at 4:52 HST and splashing down only 2 ½ miles away from the carrier.
The USS Yorktown’s helicopters were quick to respond, picking up the astronauts and delivering them safely to the flight deck of the Yorktown shortly after their re-entry.
One member of the Yorktown crew, AW-2 James B. Dorsey, operated the hoist during the recovery of Apollo 8. During a recent visit to Patriots Point, he recalled the excitement of their arrival following months of preparation.
The “Fighting Lady” gave the Apollo 8 crew a hero’s welcome aboard the Flight Deck and later hosted a celebration in the Hangar Bay, complete with a 540-lb. (seven feet long by three feet wide) cake. The Yorktown brought the silver-gold colored space capsule back to Hawaii on December 29.
Today, visitors to the USS Yorktown walk in the steps of these heroes. They can visit the same sickbay where Dr. Clarance Jernigan and the 17-man NASA medical team conducted tests to confirm the health of the astronauts following their six-day mission; sit at tables in the Wardroom, where they enjoyed a formal dinner with Capt. Fitfield and the officers of the “Fighting Lady;” and dine in the Chief’s Mess where they ate brunch before departing for home.
In addition, visitors to Patriots Point can view a piece of the Apollo 8 heat shield that was recovered by Yorktown crewmember Dan Bernath as well as a full-size replica of the space capsule. Visitors can also see AW-2 Dorsey’s name on the side of the H-3 helicopter – a tribute to his role in the recovery of the Apollo 8 capsule.
“At the core of our mission is a commitment to recognize and honor the patriotism of all the servicemen and women who have served our nation throughout its history,” said Patriots Point Executive Director Mac Burdette. “We are proud of the USS Yorktown’s involvement in such a historic moment in our nation’s history, and honored to share it with our visitors each day. These brave astronauts risked everything to keep our nation at the forefront of technology and space exploration. Their efforts contributed immeasurably to the United States winning the Cold War.”
The USS YORKTOWN (CV-10) was the tenth aircraft carrier to serve in the United States Navy.
Under construction as BON HOMME RICHARD, this new Essex-class carrier was
renamed YORKTOWN in honor of YORKTOWN (CV-5), sunk at the epic Battle of
Midway (June 1942). Built in an amazing 16-½ months at Newport News, Virginia,
YORKTOWN was commissioned on April 15, 1943, and participated significantly
in the Pacific Offensive that began in late 1943 and ended with the defeat of Japan
in 1945. YORKTOWN received the Presidential Unit Citation, and earned 11 battle
stars for service in World War II. Much of the Academy Award-winning (1944)
documentary "The Fighting Lady" was filmed on board YORKTOWN.
In the 1950's, Yorktown was modified with the addition of an angled deck to better
operate jet aircraft in her role as an attack carrier (CVA). In 1958, YORKTOWN was
designated an anti-submarine aircraft carrier (CVS), and would later earn 5 battle
stars for service off Vietnam (1965-1968). The ship also recovered the Apollo 8
astronauts and capsule (December 1968). YORKTOWN was decommissioned in
1970 and placed in reserve; and in 1975, was towed from Bayonne, NJ to Charleston
to become the centerpiece of Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum.
USS Yorktown is one of 24 Essex-class aircraft carriers built during World War II for the United States Navy. She is named after the Battle of Yorktown of the American Revolutionary War, and is the fourth U.S. Navy ship to bear the name.
Address: 40 Patriots Point Rd, Mt Pleasant, SC 29464
Area: 5 acres (2 ha)
Length: 873' (266 m)
Construction started: December 1, 1941
Launched: January 21, 1943
Builder: Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding
"We are now approaching lunar sunrise, and for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you.
'In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.'"
"And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day."
"'And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.'
And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth."
Madalyn Murray O'Hair, an atheist, responded by suing the United States government, alleging violations of the First Amendment. The suit was dismissed by the Supreme Court due to lack of jurisdiction. Later, on the Apollo 11 mission, Buzz Aldrin received communion on the lunar surface shortly after landing. Although he did not keep his actions secret, he only said a non-religious sentence on the intercom, and read from the scripture off-air.