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WE OBSERVE by Anthony Mallama

THE MOON AND VIETNAM

By the end of the 1960's, America had changed entirely. On one hand, it had climaxed its space program with the manned Apollo expeditions to the Moon. But on the other hand, it had reach an all time low in the black ghettos of the States and in the rice paddies of Vietnam. The greatness of Apollo was blemished for those of us who followed it. The view of the Moon was superb, but the view of the Earth was dismal. While our astronauts were exploring the Sea of Tranquility, our cities erupted in blazing and deadly race riots. While our scientists explored Hadley Rille, our soldiers were dying by the tens of thousands in a war that no one wanted.

Away From Home

George Gliba was away in the Air Force, and I was away at Vanderbilt University by 1970. Scarcely any of the other early members were active in the club. Looking back, we were lucky that the Riverside Park star parties and other club activities had brought in several new members including Bruce Krobusek, Dan Rothstein, John Schlessman, Rich Matyi, Ian Cooper, and Bruce Kermode.

The Orange Shift

Krobusek and the rest were part of the gradual shift of the membership away from Solon and Chagrin to Bainbridge and Orange. During this period, the club established relations with the Orange school system, and there was some talk of building an observatory in conjunction with Orange.

Now, it is hard to see why the club slumped so badly at about this time. Krobusek followed Schlessman as president, serving during 1972 and cannot account for the poor showing, but he remembers it well. There were meetings with only two members in attendance, and, as a rule, most of the elected officers would not show up at all. Perhaps it was the disarray of society: the after-shock of the riots, the intense pain of the war. Perhaps it was due to poor public relations. No one can really say.

Still Some Fun

The club appeared small and fragile at this time, however, no one ever considered dissolving it. As long as there were at least two members who enjoyed astronomy, it seemed worthwhile going on. And the members did enjoy astronomy. The meetings seemed to please those who attended, last-minute backyard star parties were popular, and there were field trips to OTAA functions such as the ones at Hiram and Hudson. Trips to Lovell's observatory and the Nassau station near Chardon occurred during these years.

There were also memorable stories such as the "infamous lawn-chair incident", the kind of story where you had to be there to really appreciate it. The way I hear it from Bruce Krobusek, this was the night of May 16, 1971. John, Ian and Rich had gathered at Bruce's house to observe an occultation at Mars by the Moon. Bruce's parents had the old fashioned lawn-chairs, which were wooden. When Ian sat down in one, he went right through the bottom of it. A short while later, when John sat down in another one, it collapsed. The night was clear though and shortly before morning twilight the tired but happy members observed the rare occultation.

Lingering Pain

The club recovered from its low period, yet the legacy of the Vietnam era would continue to haunt us in unexpected ways for many years. In the mid-1970's, a leading club member who had fought in Vietnam ended his own life. It was symptomatic of the times.

 

The next chapter, The Observing Dynasty