Razorhead Earns its Wings

Joe Engle asked Charlie Duke of the Apollo 16 crew if he’d take one of Fred’s Bear Razorheads out to the moon on his crew’s April 1972, flight. Charlie’s crewmates on this mission were T.K. Mattingly and John Young. They were heading for the highest lunar landing yet at a lunar altitude of 25,688 feet. They landed on April 20 at 8:23 p.m. CST in the Southern Highlands of the moon, on the Cayley Plains in the Descartes Region. They explored there just one hour short of three full days and drove more than 22 miles on the surface of the moon. They retrieved 213 pounds of lunar material for study. On board the command module as the crew sped toward the moon was our Fred Bear Razorhead®. It is now a valued memento in the Fred Bear Museum display at Bass Pro Shops in Springfield, Missouri.

 
A humorous model of a Saturn rocket launch pad that Joe Engle presented to Fred, showing the rocket about to be launched by a bow—The BEAR—Basic Energy Augmented Rocket, according to the nameplate Joe put on the model. In reality, we later learned that Wernher von Braun, the genius who designed the Saturn rocket, was an archery buff. And at the request of some friends of his, I sent him a Bear Archery bow set that they presented to him on his birthday. The trade-off was that he later sent me an autographed photo. The Saturn rocket looks a lot like an arrow if you look at it closely. It even has stabilizers at its base to help steer it into orbit, just as an arrow has feathers to do the same job.

Fred and Mrs. Bear drove over to the Kennedy Space Center several times while they were in Florida for the winter and watched the Apollo crews practice in their lunar pressure suits for their exploration on the moon in the mock-up of the lunar surface there at the Cape. It was only about a 50-mile drive from where they lived in Altamonte Springs in the Orlando area.

The crew got Fred in the simulators, on the lunar rover and in the “rock pile,” according to our old friend, astronaut Joe Engle, who was there. Fred enjoyed knowing these brave fellows as much as they got a thrill out of knowing him. Several framed photographs from the various astronauts hung for many years on Fred’s wall in the Gator Room in which he and Mrs. B spent most of their time at their home in Gainesville.

Following the flight out to the moon by Apollo 16, Joe Engle attended the Pope & Young meeting in 1972 as a guest of Fred’s. While there he presented Fred with the Bear Razorhead that went to the moon on that flight. Luckily a tape recording was made of that presentation. Here’s a part of what Joe Engle had to say on that occasion. It was Aug. 20, 1972:

“I’ve known Fred Bear for about two or three years now and I’ve known him closely for about a year. Fred’s philosophy of life, and his example, resonate with me all the time and I feel had I not met Fred and gotten to know him I would’ve missed out on an awful lot in life. I guess I kinda put Fred in the same category as my dad and I don’t know how to pay a person a better compliment, or a higher compliment, than that. And for that reason I’d like to really kind of impose on you right now for a couple of minutes…”

Joe then went on the read a letter that he had with him.

Dear Fred:

This is to certify that the enclosed arrowhead was carried to the moon aboard Apollo 16 in recognition of our friendship. I’m sorry it’s taken so long to return it, we’ve been busy with post-flight activities and now we’re training for Apollo 17. I hope to see you again in the near future. With best regards, sincerely yours,

Charles M. Duke, Colonel USAF
Lunar Module Pilot
Apollo 16

Joe then went on to say, “Well, Fred, I know Pope & Young doesn’t keep records on distance and all that kind of stuff, but if you’re looking for a record for that arrowhead, you might try to enter it … it traveled from launch to landing 8 billion, 661 million, 670,293 feet. So if you can practice a little bit, maybe you can out-do that. I know Fred’s proud of this, and I’m proud to be able to give it to him. I’m proud to know him, and I know you all are, too. Thank you very much.”

Mrs. B’s foster son, Mike Steger, later figured out for Fred that if the astronauts had shot this Razorhead from a bow on the moon it would have gone 3,750 feet if it had been released at a 45-degree angle for maximum distance. With the same formula, Mike estimated that it would travel 625 feet here on earth.

Archery in Astronaut Life

Also during the Apollo days I got the idea of designing some paper archery targets for the guys to shoot at in their small gym at the space center in Houston. I wanted them to tie-in with the planets, so I sketched out some rough ideas and turned them over to our Bonsib art department. They came up with some beautiful designs that we then had printed in a limited quantity for the troops. Glenn Wilson, our Texas sales rep and I then worked with Joe Garino to set up a small field range for them outside the gym in the center of their jogging trail. Glenn arranged for bales, and he and I set up the range for them one day. That way they could either shoot their bows inside the gym during inclement weather or outside when it was nice.

After we got the range all set up, Walt Cunningham of the Apollo 7 crew took us up to meet Deke Slayton, one of the original seven astronauts. Deke was quite a hunter and just wanted to talk hunting. Deke had lost his seat on Mercury due to a heart problem, but later after we were there was cleared to fly and was the docking module pilot aboard the Apollo-Soyuz mission when our Apollo guys linked up with the Russian crew in space in 1975. Deke was a great guy and always nice to me. He invited Fred and me down to his retirement flight at the Kennedy Space Center, but, unfortunately, we couldn’t make it due to our work schedules. I understand that Deke took a T-38 high over KSC and did amazing things with it in his farewell flight over the Cape.

Whenever I’d be at the astronauts’ gym waiting for one of the guys to go out to dinner, or for Joe Garino, I’d suit up and shoot baskets. They had several handball courts and a half-basketball court with weight-training equipment off to one side. Joe would always toss me one of their NASA gym suits to put on. Talk about leading a Walter Mitty life. One day I was shooting buckets in my astronaut gym suit, and Rusty Schweickart, the Apollo 9 lunar module pilot, walked up to chew the fat and asked me if I was one of their chopper pilots. “No,” I said, “I’m just the bow and arrow guy.” He got quite a chuckle out of that and walked quietly away shaking his head.

In 1984 another Bear Razorhead® went into space. This time Fred Bear Sports Club members, Jim Buchli and the late Ellison Onizuka took one of our Razorheads up into orbit with them on their STS-51C flight aboard the Space shuttle Discovery on Jan. 24, 1985. This was the first secret Department of Defense mission, and Fred and I always joked that the secret weapon on board was our Razorhead. Actually, 51-C deployed a secret spy satellite. This Razorhead, too, is in the Fred Bear Museum with a plaque that says “This Fred Bear Razorhead traveled 1.23 million miles at a speed of 17,300 miles per hour (25,373 feet per second).” Jim Buchli later visited our Fred Bear Museum with his family, and Frank Scott and I had the pleasure of showing him around. Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, El Onizuka died aboard the Space Challenger when it exploded high over the Kennedy Space Center immediately following its launch on Jan. 28, 1986.

Remembering Lost Friends

Not long after that sad event I was asked to write an article for Archery World magazine about our relationship with the astronauts who died that day. Here is what I wrote. It appeared in the September 1986, issue of that publication. The first paragraph is the lead-in to the article that the Archery Worldfolks wrote:

 crew of the space shuttle Challenger
In the back row from left to right: Ellison Onizuka, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, Judy Resnik. In the front row from left to right: Pilot Mike Smith, Commander, Dick Scobee, and Ron McNair.

“While the whole nation felt the loss of the space shuttle Challenger and her crew that morning of Jan. 28, 1986, Bear Archery’s Dick Lattimer lost friends that day, friends he had made through the astronauts’ interest in archery and bowhunting. Archery World asked the advertising executive to share some of his memories of those special people, and after a visit to the Cape this summer he put pen to paper.”

Even though my new book “All We Did Was Fly To The Moon” had successfully debuted last October at the John F. Kennedy Space Center here in Florida, I could not bring myself to go back to the Cape. I had learned the hard way that one of the prices you pay for knowing and rubbing elbows with the astronauts is dealing with their deaths when they suddenly occur. It was the first time since my first contact with that elite group in 1969 that I had to accept that cold reality.

One day last week I stood at the ground floor entrance to the elevator the astronauts rode that morning last January, when they left for their deaths on board Challenger high above Pad 39B. I was very apprehensive about riding up to the third floor and stepping into the crew’s quarters.

The last time I had been there I had spent most of the afternoon crawling around on the floor of the small gym with a new friend, Dick Scobee, who helped me assemble some of the archery equipment that I had taken there for the troops to play around with. Dick had been at the Cape on assignment and had just wandered into the weight room where I was unpacking some of the Bear Archery equipment. Dick was later to be the commander of the Challenger on her fatal flight.

I knew that I would have to deal with ghosts when I walked down the darkened hallway past the now-empty bedrooms, where Challenger’s crew had slept before the launch. I had known three of the people who died aboard Challenger, and the ship itself was one that I had deep feelings of attachment for—as a matter of fact, I had named one of our popular Bear Archery target bows after the second spaceship in our shuttle fleet. My art director and I had even driven down to the Cape with our wives one warm morning to watch the Challenger arrive for the first time aboard its Mother 747. It looked for all the world like a baby whale perched on its mother’s back as it lumbered slowly down the Florida beach past the Officer’s Club at Patrick Air Force Base.

I had driven down for her maiden launch in 1983 as a guest of the crew. Perhaps it was the Challenger name that appealed to me. For many years our research at Bear Archery into why people become bowhunters spoke of the “challenge” of the sport, and I had used the buzz word often in my advertising copy. The word evokes an image of “spitting on one’s hands and getting on with it” in the finest traditions of our pioneers of the Old West and of our immigrant grandparents who had made their own scary journeys into the unknown, into their hostile environments of the day.

As I walked down the sky-blue carpet that morning last week, I remembered, too, the fun night I had spent eight years before with some of these people who would die aboard Challenger.

I had been at the Johnson Space Center doing research on my book “All We Did Was Fly To The Moon” and had met earlier in the day with some of the astronauts. Dinner had been planned with the late Cy Baker and his wife, Pat, with whom I had become friends over the years (Cy was the administrator of the astronaut office, and following his death I dedicated my book to him.)

“Before we go eat,” Cy had said when I finished my day of interviewing people, “I want to take you someplace that I think you’ll enjoy.”

It was Jan. 30, 1978, and NASA had its 35 new astronauts in town to announce their names to the public. Their group’s flight patch would carry the letters TFNG on it as sort of a fraternal secret code. In reality it meant “Thirty-Five New Guys” and reflected the bright good humor of this new group that Dr. Robert A. Frosch, the NASA administrator described that day as “an outstanding group of women and men who represent the most competent, talented and experienced people available to us today.” Some 8,079 applicants had been whittled down to these 35. They included the first American women astronauts, the first African-Americans, the first Asian, the first Buddhist, the first of Jewish faith. Truly it was the first really representative group of Americans to become astronauts.

My notes on the “new kids” made after that evening reveal that I found Sally Ride to be “very self-confident.” I would later take Pat Baker, Cy’s widow, to Sally’s launch as the first American woman in Space. I also met Dr. Ron McNair that evening and found him to be a very nice person with an infectious smile. Ron would become the second African-American in space, and his brilliant career would end aboard Challenger. Also there that evening at the Gilruth Center from the Challenger 51-Lima crew were Ellison Onizuka, Dick Scobee and Judy Resnik.

El had been born on the Big Island out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in the Hawaiian chain. He had grown up on the Kona Coast not far from the voice of the ocean, and it was a part of him. He loved going after the big ones, so I put him in contact with Zebco for what he needed. But El also got hooked on our sport of bowhunting, and so began years of phone calls from him on one or the other aspect of hunting with the bow and arrow. Sometimes he called just to chew the fat, and we would laugh and giggle at something that one or the other of us had done on our misadventures with bow and arrow. Once, when Fred Bear was in Houston on business for a speaking engagement, our good friend Joe Engle, who has hunted with Fred in Alaska and commanded two space shuttle missions, had Fred over to his house and invited El and some of the other young astronauts over for an evening of camaraderie. El and another astronaut/archer, Jim Buchli, would later take a Fred Bear Razorhead and Fred Bear Sports Club patch up with them on their secret flight aboard Discovery in January 1985.

I had not met Christa McAuliffe, yet I identified greatly with her, as a matter of fact, I was damn jealous of her. On the plus side was the fact that she was a teacher like my wife, Alice, and I could appreciate the benefits her flight would have upon our young people. My jealousy was caused by the fact that she would become the first ordinary American in space, and I had dreamed of doing that in my own Walter Mitty way and had even been pestering congressmen and NASA to make it a reality. The fact that 20,000 other Americans share the same dream has not yet deterred me, and as a matter of fact, diagnosed heart trouble has only stimulated me to try the medical research angle to get on board. So I carried the guilt of jealousy down the darkened hallway in the crew quarters that day last week, too.

What I did not expect to find at the end of that hallway was humor. That would have been the last emotion that I would have dreamed possible. I expected sadness, because I had talked to El just a few days before the launch. He had called to tell me how much he was enjoying my book now that he was getting around to reading it. For my part I asked him to take a copy of it up “sometime” for me. Whether or not he had a copy in his personal preference kit on board Challenger I do not know, perhaps no one does.

Both Dick and El had invited us to their launch, and Charlie Smith (Bear Archery president) and I had planned on attending with our wives. But several delays had moved the launch into the weekdays, and at the last minute we changed our plans. And so, mercifully, we were not there to see Challenger ascend into the Florida sky.

As I stepped into the small combination workout room and archery range at the end of the hallway, our Bear Lightarget® stood out on the far side of the room. The astronauts had positioned it there so that they could stand outside in the hallway and get some added distance for their short archery range. And surrounding the riddled Lightarget were dozens of holes in the wall where errant arrows had missed the target. Not one or two, mind you, but dozens. And the first hole in the wall had been noted for historical purposes by the gals that help keep the astronaut crew quarters humming along. They had put a name tag up over the arrow hole to mark it for posterity. And the name on the marker was that of El Onizuka.

Suddenly, fear and trepidation disappeared. I mean it literally melted away, and I laughed out loud. El and I had laughed at one another so very many times over the years about our missed shots and silly goofs while we were out hunting, yet he had never told me about his “missile monument” here in the gym. And somehow it seemed just the right thing to do, and I had one last belly laugh with my friends on board Challenger 51-L.”