WAPAKONETA — The four frogmen who pulled astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins from their Apollo 11 capsule in 1969 enjoyed a bit of fame themselves at Wapakoneta’s Summer Moon Festival.
Clancy Hatteberg, Mike Mallory, John Wolfrom and Wes Chesser were in Wapakoneta for the Summer Moon Festival, a chance for the community to remember hometown hero Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon.
The four frogmen were members of Underwater Demolition Team 11 and were assigned to the U.S.S. Hornet Aircraft Carrier.
Wolfrom was the first frogman in the water, attaching a sea anchor to the capsule to keep it upright in the rough seas.
Mallory and Chesser helped put a flotation collar around Apollo 11.
The four recounted their experiences for a crowd at the Armstrong Museum on Saturday as people viewed archival footage on a television monitor.
“The 60s were just an exciting time for the space program,” Chesser said. “The goal was to put a man on the moon and that’s what (President) Kennedy said in the early 1960s. We wanted to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade and sure enough, it happened. This is a big deal.”
It’s the first time the four had been reunited in 52 years.
“We got the job done unbelievably fast and 52 years later we meet and it’s just like it was yesterday. It was cool because we were so close,” Mallory said.
“It’s really good to see them,” Chesser said. “Then I realized how much I’ve kind of lost through the years. Sometimes it’s just hard to get back together with people from the past, just because of life and situations and circumstances, but this is great and I’m just hoping we can get together more frequently.”
Mallory was asked what he remembered most about that day.
“The sharks. I wake up thinking about them. Your hair stands up on your arms because they came up. We were just shark bait out there and we would jump up on the side of the capsule lots of times being chased out by sharks,” Mallory said.
Mallory is the one that put a flower sticker on the Apollo 10 capsule, recalling he got “reamed” for that.
On the Apollo 11 rescue, the flower sticker was there too. “I couldn’t put it on the windows so I put it on John (Wolfrom) and he stood on top of that raft and looked really good up there with that flower,” Mallory said.
Armstrong Air & Space Museum executive director Dante Centuri says the reunion of the frogmen was something special.
“It’s amazing because you’d think after 52 years everything’s happened and that’s not the case. This is the first time the frogmen have gotten together as a group of four since the mission and we’re delighted that it was in Wapakoneta. They came to the museum, downtown or at the race,” Centuri said.
Reach Sam Shriver at 567-242-0409.