CHURCH HILL — Church Hill’s own Bill Killen recently released his new book, “The History of the Apollo and Skylab Astronaut Rescue Team.”
Killen, who is the National Fire Heritage Center President (NFHC), FIFireE CFO and International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Former President, will sign copies of his book on Wednesday, Dec. 4 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Review office (316 East Main Street).
Readers may recall that the Review featured Killen’s career in the Spring, 2019 edition of “Discover Hawkins County”, and also in the Review the week of July 20 this year on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
Killen was able to witness a fascinating point in history, as he served as a member of NASA’s Apollo Astronaut Fire and Rescue Team; thus, his book chronicles the history of the Apollo and Skylab Astronaut Rescue Teams.
The tragic Apollo One fire
Killen’s book begins in much the same way as did the Astronaut Rescue Teams themselves — with the tragic Apollo One fire.
Killen explained that the aforementioned Astronaut Rescue Team was established after the Apollo One diasaster, which took place on Jan. 27, 1967.
“NASA had a procedure in place for rescue of the astronauts in case something happened, and, as a result of the fire, they realized that the procedures they had in place were inadequate for performing a rescue,” Killen told the Review.
After the fire, NASA tasked the Kennedy Space Center Fire Department with developing the Astronaut Rescue Team and its procedures.
“These procedures were developed with the thought in mind that the Rescue Team would go in and extract the astronauts from the Command Module in case they were incapacitated,” Killen explained. “The procedures included drawings of the step-by-step movement of the rescuers taking the astronauts out of the Command Module.”
Killen is one of five surviving members of the original Rescue Team.
Once the Rescue Team was well trained in official procedures, they trained with what they called “live” hypergolic fire, which is a mixture of liquid hydrogen, monomethylhydrazine nitrogen tetroxide and other chemicals used in a space shuttle propulsion system.
This fire training exercise was contained, and Killen explained that it used many of the same chemicals that rescuers would have been exposed to had a real fire taken place on the launchpad.
To tell their story
Though this is far from Killen’s first book, this one was unique in that it tells a story that has been mostly kept under wraps for many years.
“It all started in spring of last year when I was talking about the upcoming 50th anniversary of the landing on the moon,” he said.
During this discussion, Killen began to think of his massive document collection on the Astronaut Rescue Team, as he had been saving this kind of material since being a member of the team in the late 60s.
“I save everything,” he said. “I started to realize that I had a lot of documentation.”
To be specific, Killen has three filing cabinets full of documents from his “activities and life’s career” that are even organized chronologically.
“The truth of the matter is, there’s a lot written about the Space Program, but there was nothing written about the Astronaut Rescue Team,” he said. “In fact, the whole process was pretty much kept under cover. When I co-authored the history of the Kennedy Space Center Fire Department back in the early 90s, I recall Roy Terry (the Team Commander) making the comment that it was a crying shame that nothing was ever identified about the role of the Astronaut Rescue Team.”
Killen aimed to change this.
“This is a very unknown piece of history on the space program during the Apollo years,” he added. “People didn’t realize that the Astronaut Rescue Team sat within the blast danger zone — 1,500 feet from a 363-foot rocket that I always referred to as ‘a 363-foot stick of dynamite.’”
He explained that, had the rocket blown up on the launch pad, everything and everyone within a 7,000-foot radius would have been destroyed.
“These were dedicated firefighters,” he said of the team. “They all volunteered for the mission, and they really worked their butts off to make it a good program. The idea for the book was that I would record the history of the Astronaut Rescue Team and tell their story.”
As Killen began to dig through his massive collection, he found the original training manual for the Apollo program as well as the modified manual, which, as he explained, became the training manual for the Apollo Skylab Program.
He also found numerous photos — many of which have never been seen before.
“NASA never photographed any of the Astronaut Rescue Team evolutions of removing astronauts from the command module,” he said. “I believe they were reluctant to do that because they didn’t want to focus on the fact that it was a dangerous mission.”
Killen, however, photographed the team often.
“You had to have a permit to have a camera in the restricted area, and one of my coworkers by the name of Glen Higgs had this permit,” he said. “But, all of us on the Astronaut Rescue Team carried a camera when we went to the launchpad for the mission. We knew that we weren’t supposed to have our cameras, but many of us laugh about it now and say, ‘it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.’”
None of them ever got caught for having their forbidden cameras, as he explained, “no one ever checked us when we were going to the launchpad to get ready for the launch.”
The original team
Through his writing process, Killen, who is actually one of only five surviving members of the original Apollo Astronaut Rescue Team, spent time talking with several others who had been involved in the program such as original members Gerald “Tadpole” Driskell and Gene “Cajun” Weldon. Unfortunately, Killen explained that he was unable to locate original member Melvin Thorne.
In June of this year, he actually spent three days in Alabama interviewing the only known surviving medic from the team, Jim Tanner. He also spent time with Lee Starrick, who Killen called the “historian of the Kennedy Space Center Fire Department.” Starrick, who later served as a team member, will also be inducted into the National Fire Heritage Center’s Hall of Legends, Legacies and Leaders next April.
In addition to providing valuable input to his book, Killen explained that many of these men have also provided encouragement along the way.
“The feedback has been unreal from these guys,” he said. “In fact, a week before his death, the team leader (Arthur Wozniak) and I had been talking, and his last comment to me was, ‘I want you to give me the first book.’”
John Bowman, who served as a later member of the team even wrote an email to Killen saying, “because of this book, the history and memories of the Astronaut Rescue Teams will not just fade away in time, but will now be preserved forever for many generations’ enjoyment.”
More information on Killen’s other works and career can be found at http://chiefbillkillen.com/. All proceeds from the book will be donated to the National Fire Heritage Center, which Killen explained “was established to preserve the perishable” and has preserved many historic documents on fire service and fire service leaders.
To meet Bill and purchase a copy of his book, be sure to stop by the Review office on Dec. 4. Refreshments will be served.
KINGSPORT — Thanks to fast police work and a clerk with an eye for detail, barely 10 minutes after he allegedly held up a Kingsport gas station Thursday evening, a Church Hill man was under arrest for aggravted robbery.
On November 21, 2019, around 8:45 p.m., Kingsport Police Patrol Officers responded to a hold-up alarm at the Spirit Gas Station, located at 1300 East Stone Drive.
While officers were still en-route to the scene, Kingsport Central Dispatch received a follow-up call from the store clerk confirming that there had, in fact, been a robbery.
The clerk informed officers that the suspect had indicated that he had a gun and had stolen the entire cash drawer from the register along with an undisclosed amount of money.
The clerk also provided officers with a detailed description of what turned out to be a blue 2008 Chevrolet Trailblazer sport utility vehicle, complete with a partial license plate number, in which the suspect fled.
Within less than 10 minutes of the initial hold-up alarm, an alert KPD patrol officer spotted the suspect vehicle and made a traffic stop on North Eastman Road at the intersection of Stadium Court.
As a result of that traffic stop, the suspect, Reggie L. Evans, 42, of Conant Road, Church Hill, was successfully taken into custody without incident.
The stolen cash register drawer was subsequently recovered from his vehicle.
He was transported to the Kingsport City Jail, where as of Friday morning, he remained confined pending arraignment.
SURGOINSVILLE — Two Surgoinsville residents were arrested last week and charged with possession of stolen property over $1,000, and other charges, after law enforcement officers found them in possession of a stolen car hauler which was also loaded with a vehicle that bore a stolen tag.
In separate reports, Hawkins Co. Sheriff’s Deputy Bryan Sanders said that Jacob Kyle Robinson, 26, of Hendricks Street, was charged with possession of stolen property over $1,000, possession of stolen property, driving on revoked driver license, and violation of the state’s financial responsibility law; while Lahonna Dawn Charles, 32, of Donald Charles Road, was charged with possession of stolen property over $1,000, and possession of stolen property.
Deputy Sanders said that shortly before 11 p.m. on Nov. 14, 2019, he was dispatched to an address on Stanley Valley Road in reference to a possible location of a stolen car hauler. The complainant had advised Hawkins Co. Dispatch that the car hauler was being towed by a maroon-colored Nissan pickup.
While enroute to the call, 911 Dispatch advised Sanders that the truck and car hauler were leaving with a possibly stolen car now loaded on it.
Deputy Sgt. Stacy Vaughn was first to make contact with the vehicle on Gillenwater Lane. Vaughn and Sanders followed, and initiated a traffic stop.
After identifying the driver, Robinson, and the passenger, Charles, they also confirmed through 911 Dispatch that the silver Honda Civic loaded onto the vehicle came back registered to an owner in Oakboro, North Carolina.
The tag on the vehicle was reportedly stolen from a Rogersville business.
Because the owner of the vehicle — which was not flagged as stolen in the NCIC system — could not be immediately determined, the Honda was towed to the Sheriff’s Impound Lot.
The pickup that Robinson was driving was also towed and impounded, while the recovered tag was handed over to the Rogersville Police Department to be returned to its rightful owner.
The car hauler, valued at $2,500, was reported stolen on Oct. 30, 2019, from Marvin Wilder, Sanders’ report states.
The pair had an initial court appearance scheduled in Sessions Court on Nov. 18.
SNEEDVILLE/ROGERSVILLE — Georgia Baptists have worked hard this year with a goal to provide 35,000 backpacks to ministries in a 15-state area defined by Southern Baptist as Appalachia. More than 1,100 of those “Christmas Backpacks” made their way to Of One Accord Ministry recently, all of which came from just one association of churches in Carrollton, Georgia.
The Southern Baptist Convention recognized in 2000 that the lowest income families in America, per capita, were families living in rural isolated Appalachia. Ministries like Of One Accord, serving Hawkins and Hancock counties, have become the connectors between churches east of the Mississippi and the struggling families living in the ‘hills and hollers’ of East Tennessee, Eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia, and West Virginia.
Of One Accord has been a host for mission teams coming throughout the summer to do home repairs, backyard Bible clubs, sports camps, distributions and providing many other needed services like dental clinics.
“Since we do the countywide Christmas activities, teams have also wanted to return during December and help,” said Sheldon Livesay, the ministry’s director. “Evidently teams, like the ones that come here, have gone back to their respective states expressing the need for churches outside Appalachia to help Appalachian ministries at Christmas. Out of that need, the Christmas Backpack program was initiated.”
According to Livesay, churches in the Associations prepare backpacks just as they do the Samaritan’s Purse “Shoebox Ministry” for children overseas.
They designate a “Christmas Backpack Sunday” for members to bring the backpacks, and they in turn, ship them to Appalachia.
Each backpack provides Christmas items, healthcare items, some snack treats and school supplies.
Carrollton, Georgia-area churches have had a long partnership with Of One Accord, so when the “Christmas Backpack” program was initiated, they decided to supply all the backpacks needed to fill Christmas for the Children’s Christmas needs.
Jennifer Kinsler expressed her genuine thanks on behalf of every recipient child and their families.
“We offered 38 parties last year for the 1,320 children we served,” Kinsler said. “Each child was given a backpack to open the night of the party, but the wrapped gifts were placed in black garbage bags for parents to take home and place under the tree.”
Kinsler stated in amazement, “they not only collect these backpacks for us, they turn around and deliver them!”
Dr. Dan Dockery, the Missions Director of the Association, invited Tammy Helton to Carrollton this year so that she could personally thank their churches on “Backpack Sunday” as backpacks were brought in. Then, Dockery brought a team of men from Carrollton to unload the 20-foot truck — full to the brim — with these “gifts of love” from Carrollton churches.
Kinsler also told of a single 88-year old member of one of their churches, who accumulated used bicycles and completely restored them with new tires and rims, new seats and gearing. She said he even painted them and put new decals on them. These gifts are handled through OOA’s ministry in Sneedville.
Of One Accord staff and volunteers all agreed that, “Christmas will be a lot happier in East Tennessee through these ‘backpacks of love’ from Georgia.