USS Harry S. Truman, At Sea (NNS) -- Retired astronauts Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell, and Gene Cernan embarked USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) for an overnight visit as part of the Legends of Aerospace program Oct. 9.
Highlights of their visit included speaking with crew members, participating in the re-enlistment of 20 Sailors, a .50-cal gun shoot, and a foreign object destruction (FOD) walkdown on the flight deck.
The astronauts held a special presentation panel in Truman's hangar bay for hundreds of crew members. During the panel they spoke about their adventures both as Navy pilots and in outer space. The session was followed by the opportunity for crew members to meet and take photographs with the astronauts.
"They were really down-to-earth," said Machinist's Mate Fireman Brian Novotny. "It was amazing to hear about their adventures. It's kind of hard to believe three people who have been into space came to visit our ship."
"It was very morale-boosting to have them fly out to visit us while we're on deployment," said Aviation Ordnanceman Airman Faalupe Francisco. "These men achieved what was supposed to be the impossible. The fact that they took the time to come out here shows they care about the people fighting for freedom. It was a pleasure to meet Mr. Armstrong."
The three former naval aviators expressed their excitement about returning to a place each was familiar with; a deployed United States aircraft carrier.
"It's a homecoming for me," said Cernan. "My accomplishments were only made possible because of naval aviation. Without my naval career, I wouldn't have been able to talk to the young men and women serving our country on this ship about having walked on the moon."
One of the highlights of the visit was the reading of the oath of enlistment by the former astronauts, during a special re-enlistment ceremony for 20 Sailors in Truman's forecastle.
"When I was told I had the opportunity for them to re-enlist me, I was ecstatic," said Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class (SW/AW) Tom Vaningen. "It was a great honor for me to be re-enlisted by those heroes. It was a huge experience I will remember for the rest of my life."
The astronauts were equally quick to express their joy at being a part of the process as the young Sailors made the decision to "stay Navy".
"I was more than happy I got the opportunity to be able to re-enlist the group of young Sailors," Cernan said. "It's a different generation. They are handling technology and responsibility far beyond other men and women in their age groups. The young Sailors of my generation are the ones who gave me the opportunity to set foot on the moon, and I'm grateful to each and every Sailor in this generation for serving our country."
During their tour of Truman's operational spaces, Cernan, Lovell and Armstrong were vastly impressed by the modern military's ever-advancing technology.
"My uncle, the 58th Naval aviator, told me stories about how he flew off ships in bi-planes," said Lovell. "It's amazing how accomplished technology has become, compared to when my uncle and I flew for the Navy. It's really an eye-opener for me. It makes me wish I were 30 years younger, so I could fly again."
Even more impressive than the technology, the astronauts agreed, were the young men and women they met. They unanimously agreed the highlight of their time on board Truman was getting to know the people who serve.
"I'm extremely impressed with the professionalism of the crew," Cernan said. "The one thing that hasn't changed over the years is the pride and professionalism of the crew. The culture on this ship is so diverse, and they are all here because they want to be here. Their spirit shows how passionate they are about fighting for freedom."
"I'm very proud to have been invited to come aboard to meet these young Sailors and Marines," said Lovell. "The diversity of the crew astonished me, and the fact that they can all work together so well impressed me even further. The leadership and teamwork is the best I've seen in a long time. Everybody has a job to do, and they all do it well."
Although the visit was memorable to many of the crew members who had the opportunity to listen to the astronauts' stories, or to interact with them personally, the day was particularly meaningful for some of the crew members who were old enough to remember watching the astronauts as they made history.
"When I was a kid, I remember I was allowed to stay up to watch the launch on our black-and-white TV," said Master Chief Fire Controlman Phillip Bishop. "Everybody had 'Apollo fever', and I had my model spaceships and space helmet, anticipating the launch. They were my heroes, and I revered their marks on history. No matter how old we are, everybody needs heroes, and meeting them today was one of the most important moments of my life."
For more news from USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), visit www.navy.mil/local/cvn75/.