WE DIDN’T START THE FIRE
FROM A TO Z
On September 27, 1989, the iconic song by Billy Joel, We Didn’t Start the Fire hit the airwaves. It was a history lesson set to music. When you first heard the song, did you know or remember all the people places, things and events mentioned in the lyrics? I sure didn’t. Back in 1989 before the internet was something everyone had access to, my boyfriend (now husband) and I headed to the local public library and looked up all the historical references. This month, for the A to Z Challenge, I am writing about that history.
1950 – Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe (born Norma Jeane Mortenson; June 1, 1926 – August 5, 1962) was an American actress and model. Famous for playing comic “dumb blonde” characters, she became one of the most popular sex symbols of the 1950s, emblematic of the era’s attitudes towards sexuality. Although she was a top-billed actress for only a decade, her films grossed $200 million by the time of her unexpected death in 1962. She continues to be considered a major popular culture icon. A troubled existence but a truly beautiful woman.
1952 – Marciano (Rocky)
Rocco Francis Marchegiano (September 1, 1923 – August 31, 1969), best known as Rocky Marciano, was an American professional boxer who competed from 1947 to 1955, and held the world heavyweight title from 1952 to 1956. He went undefeated in his career and defended the title six times, against Jersey Joe Walcott, Roland La Starza, Ezzard Charles (twice), Don Cockell, and Archie Moore. Known for his relentless fighting style, stamina, and an iron chin, Marciano has been ranked by many boxing historians as one of the best heavyweight boxers of all time. His knockout-to-win percentage of 87.75 remains one of the highest in heavyweight boxing history.
1953 – Malenkov
Georgy Maximilianovich Malenkov (8 January 1902 [O.S. 26 December 1901] – 14 January 1988) was a Soviet politician and Communist Party leader. His family connections with Vladimir Lenin sped his promotion in the party, and in 1925 he was put in charge of the party records. This brought him into close association with Joseph Stalin, and he was heavily involved in the purges of the 1930s. During World War II, he was given sole responsibility for the Soviet missile program. Later he gained favour with Stalin by discrediting Marshal Georgy Zhukov for supposed disloyalty, and supporting Stalin’s campaign to erase all the glories of Leningrad in the public mind, in order to promote Moscow as the cultural capital. On Stalin’s death in 1953, Malenkov was briefly party leader, but was soon replaced by Nikita Khrushchev, with Malenkov as premier, as the party did not want both functions entrusted to the same person. His two-year term ended in failure. He was expelled from the Politburo in 1957. In 1961 he was expelled from the party and exiled to Kazakhstan.
1957 – Mickey Mantle
Mickey Charles Mantle (October 20, 1931 – August 13, 1995), nicknamed The Commerce Comet and The Mick, was an American professional baseball player. Mantle played his entire Major League Baseball (MLB) career with the New York Yankees as a center fielder and first baseman, from 1951 through 1968. Mantle was one of the best players and sluggers, and is regarded by many as the greatest switch hitter in baseball history. Mantle was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974 and was elected to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team in 1999.
Mantle was arguably the greatest offensive threat of any center fielder in baseball history. He has the highest career OPS+ of any center fielder and he had the highest stolen base percentage in history at the time of his retirement. In addition, compared to the four other center fielders on the all-century team, he had the lowest career rate of grounding into double plays (by far) and he had the highest World Series on-base percentage and World Series slugging percentage. He also had an excellent 0.984 fielding percentage when playing center field. Mantle was noted for his ability to hit for both average and power, especially tape measure home runs. He hit 536 MLB career home runs, batted .300 or more ten times, and is the career leader (tied with Jim Thome) in walk-off home runs, with a combined thirteen, twelve in the regular season and one in the postseason.
Mantle won the Triple Crown in 1956, leading the major leagues in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in (RBI); he later wrote a book about his best year in baseball. He was an All-Star for 16 seasons, playing in 16 of the 20 All-Star Games that were played. He was an American League (AL) Most Valuable Player (MVP) three times and a Gold Glove winner once. Mantle appeared in 12 World Series including seven championships, and holds World Series records for the most home runs (18), RBIs (40), extra-base hits (26), runs (42), walks (43), and total bases (123). There are a lot of baseball greats but they just don’t make them like Mickey Mantle any more.
1959 – Mafia
1969 – Moonshot
On July 20, 1969 at 10:56 p.m. EDT, American astronaut Neil Armstrong, 240,000 miles from Earth, speaks these words to more than a billion people listening at home:
“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Stepping off the lunar landing module Eagle, Armstrong became the first human to walk on the surface of the moon.
The American effort to send astronauts to the moon has its origins in a famous appeal President John F. Kennedy made to a special joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961:
“I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.”
At the time, the United States was still trailing the Soviet Union in space developments, and Cold War-era America welcomed Kennedy’s bold proposal.
In 1966, after five years of work by an international team of scientists and engineers, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) conducted the first unmanned Apollo mission, testing the structural integrity of the proposed launch vehicle and spacecraft combination. Then, on January 27, 1967, tragedy struck at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, when a fire broke out during a manned launch-pad test of the Apollo spacecraft and Saturn rocket. Three astronauts were killed in the fire.
Despite the setback, NASA and its thousands of employees forged ahead, and in October 1968, Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo mission, orbited Earth and successfully tested many of the sophisticated systems needed to conduct a moon journey and landing. In December of the same year, Apollo 8 took three astronauts to the dark side of the moon and back, and in March 1969 Apollo 9 tested the lunar module for the first time while in Earth orbit. Then in May, the three astronauts of Apollo 10 took the first complete Apollo spacecraft around the moon in a dry run for the scheduled July landing mission.
At 9:32 a.m. on July 16, with the world watching, Apollo 11 took off from Kennedy Space Center with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin Jr., and Michael Collins aboard. Armstrong, a 38-year-old civilian research pilot, was the commander of the mission. After traveling 240,000 miles in 76 hours, Apollo 11 entered into a lunar orbit on July 19.
The next day, at 1:46 p.m., the lunar module Eagle, manned by Armstrong and Aldrin, separated from the command module, where Collins remained.
Two hours later, the Eagle began its descent to the lunar surface, and at 4:18 p.m. the craft touched down on the southwestern edge of the Sea of Tranquility.
Armstrong immediately radioed to Mission Control in Houston, Texas, a famous message: “The Eagle has landed.”
At 10:39 p.m., five hours ahead of the original schedule, Armstrong opened the hatch of the lunar module. As he made his way down the lunar module’s ladder, a television camera attached to the craft recorded his progress and beamed the signal back to Earth, where hundreds of millions watched in great anticipation. At 10:56 p.m., Armstrong spoke his famous quote, which he later contended was slightly garbled by his microphone and meant to be “that’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” He then planted his left foot on the gray, powdery surface, took a cautious step forward, and humanity had walked on the moon.
“Buzz” Aldrin joined him on the moon’s surface at 11:11 p.m., and together they took photographs of the terrain, planted a U.S. flag, ran a few simple scientific tests, and spoke with President Richard M. Nixon via Houston.
By 1:11 a.m. on July 21, both astronauts were back in the lunar module and the hatch was closed. The two men slept that night on the surface of the moon, and at 1:54 p.m. the Eagle began its ascent back to the command module. Among the items left on the surface of the moon was a plaque that read: “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot on the moon–July 1969 A.D–We came in peace for all mankind.”
At 5:35 p.m., Armstrong and Aldrin successfully docked and rejoined Collins, and at 12:56 a.m. on July 22 Apollo 11 began its journey home, safely splashing down in the Pacific Ocean at 12:51 p.m. on July 24.
There is an interesting connection to my other blog, USS Hornet (CV-12) – A Father’s Untold War Story. By 1969, the famous Navy ship had its flight deck altered and renamed USS Hornet (CVS-12). By this date in 1969, my father was no longer living; however I am sure he would have been proud of his ship’s selection to recover Apollo 11 and Apollo 12. Of course President John F. Kennedy also didn’t live to see the success of the space program.
There would be five more successful lunar landing missions, and one unplanned lunar swing-by, Apollo 13. The last men to walk on the moon, astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt of the Apollo 17 mission, left the lunar surface on December 14, 1972. The Apollo program was a costly and labor intensive endeavor, involving an estimated 400,000 engineers, technicians, and scientists, and costing $24 billion (close to $100 billion in today’s dollars). The expense was justified by Kennedy’s 1961 mandate to beat the Soviets to the moon, and after the feat was accomplished ongoing missions lost their viability.