When I received the phone call about Wally's passing in the
early morning hours of May 3rd, I was nothing short of stunned. I
received the call about three hours before it hit the media. We were to
have seen each other in June in Florida and plot out a revision of this
web site. It's a meeting that will never happen.
Growing up in the 1960's, one couldn't help but
know of "Astronaut Wally Schirra". He was a household name. We watched his
flights, as well as the others, with great anticipation. I have vivid
memories of the launch of Apollo 7 in 1968 thinking that it took a lot
of guts for those three guys to get into an Apollo spacecraft after the
terrible fire of Apollo 1. At the same time, I knew how cool he had been
during the aborted launch of Gemini 6 and, of course, he was an original
Mercury astronaut. He was truly "the man".
I was introduced to Wally several years ago. During
the introduction, naturally, Wally had to make a pun regarding my last
name. I immediately fired back with a pun of my own. He countered, I
fired back again. He then said "You're good! I like you!" I told him
that my late father was a similar punster and that I had years and years
of practice. A real friendship was born that evening.
Wally and his wife, Jo, took my wife and me into their
personal lives. It was always fun going to visit the Schirra home. Jo
can be funnier than Wally and knew how to keep him in check. We went
out to dinner or lunch or just gabbed at his kitchen table. There I was,
sitting in the home of a boyhood hero. The Schirra's, who have been in
the company of kings, queens and presidents, became personal friends.
Like most men, Wally loved his "toys". I am a scale
modeler and had built him a couple of models for his personal
collection. I received a call from him one afternoon to tell me that the
Mercury/Atlas model that I had built for him a couple of years earlier
was the exact same scale of a model for the expansion of the San Diego
Air and Space Museum, which he affectionately referred to as "Wally
World". He then told me that they were using this model in their plans
and wanted to know if it was alright with me if he donated the model to
the museum for future display. I told him that I would be honored to
have one of my models in a museum, but had to add the kicker "and I get
a percentage of the admissions for my donation, right?" Wally roared but
couldn't resist firing back at me with "you gave the model to me and I'm
donating it, so the kickbacks are all mine!". A typical Wally response.
When my wife became ill with a terminal cancer
diagnosis, Wally immediately told me that we needed to get away and have
some down time - and offered the use of his home in Kauai. When he assured me that
this wasn't one of his classic "gotchas", we were able to spend 10
wonderful days at one of the most beautiful places on earth. He was
extremely generous. After my wife's passing, he sent me a handwritten
letter of condolence saying, in part, "that there is no solution to health
problems if destiny wins". These words came back to me after hearing of
his sudden passing.
I will miss Wally very much. I will miss his puns, his
jokes, his laugh, the unexpected phone calls, the e-mails, drinking KJ with him
at the bar, trying to catch him on a turtle joke - but, most important,
I will miss the man himself. He was truly one of a kind.
Wally left me with
one final "gotcha". Within minutes of the public announcement of his
passing, the server that hosts this web site did a complete meltdown due
to so many simultaneous hits. Wally could never truly figure out why
people loved to visit this site - and this was his last laugh at my
expense. Thanks, Wally. We had over a million hits to this site within
the first 36 hours. Remember our "agreement" at a buck a hit. Where
should I send my bill? Gotcha!
I wish you smooth sailing and fair winds, Captain.
Rest assured we are all still here to keep the dream and your memory
With much love and admiration,
Your humble WebSlave - Tracy
5 May 2007
family has suggested that you may want to make a
donation in Wally's name to one of the following organizations:
Memorial Endowment Scholarship
San Diego Chapter of the Achievement Rewards for College
Scientists (ARCS) Foundation is working to establish a
$150,000 endowment to award annually a $7,500
Wally Schirra Memorial Endowment Scholarship to an
American graduate science scholar.
Schirra was a member of their chapter for a few years and
Wally introduced one of their Scientists of the Year several
ARCS Foundation and NASA (National Aeronautics and Space
Administration) were both founded in 1958 in the aftermath
of the launch of Sputnik. What better way to celebrate our
50th anniversaries than by honoring a true
American hero and pioneer in space, Walter "Wally" M.
Schirra was one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts
(America's first effort to put men in space). In 1962, he
became the fifth American to fly in space, and was the only
astronaut to fly in all of America's first three space
programs (Mercury, Gemini, Apollo).
retiring from NASA and settling in San Diego, Wally was
active in civic endeavors, including the ARCS Foundation.
In honor of this great astronaut and special friend of San
Diego, the ARCS San Diego Chapter is proud to announce the
establishment of the "Wally Schirra Memorial Endowment
Scholarship." Please join us in celebrating the life and
career of this distinguished American by sending a gift of
tribute to the Schirra endowed scholarship.
Donors will be endowing the future of science in America by
investing in scholarships that will keep Wally's memory and
achievements alive forever. Our goal of $150,000 will
generate earnings that will provide a $7,500 scholarship
each year, in perpetuity, to fund science education at one
of our recipient institutions.
encouraged San Diego to stretch itself, to reach further, to
envision the future, just as the space program has done. We
believe he would proudly endorse this fund to ensure the
future of science in America. Mrs. Schirra, a former
member of the ARCS San Diego Chapter, is pleased that the
Chapter has established this memorial fund for him.
year, the ARCS San Diego Chapter will select an American
graduate science scholar to receive this prestigious award.
ARCS scholarships are given to the best and brightest
graduate scholars who are United States citizens and
full-time science students with a 3.7 GPA or greater, doing
research in the fields of science, engineering and
Special recognition will be given to the Wally Schirra
Memorial Endowment Scholarship at the ARCS Scientist of the
Year Dinner April 18, 2008, in San Diego, as well as at the
ARCS Foundation National Annual Meeting in Pasadena, June
2008. At that time, members of the fourteen chapters
nationwide will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of
the ARCS Foundation and the impact it has made on the
advancement of science in America.
donation to the Schirra Endowment is a one-time gift and
entirely separate from our annual scholarship fund efforts.
If you would like to be part of this special tribute to an
American hero, please send your check, payable to ARCS
Foundation, Inc., to:
Inc./San Diego Chapter
P. O. Box 8394
Rancho Santa Fe, CA 92067-8394
you would prefer to make a credit card donation, please
contact us at:
Thank you for your
The Schirra family thanks you for your generosity and outpouring of
affection towards Wally
NEW BOOK ALERT!
"Selecting the Mercury Seven - The Search for America's
by Colin Burgess
The names of the seven
Mercury astronauts were announced in April 1959 amid a
flurry of publicity and patriotism. This work provides
biographical details of all thirty-two finalists for the
seven coveted places as America's pioneering astronauts. All
of the candidates were among the nation's elite pilots
involved in testing new supersonic aircraft capabilities.
Most had served as wartime fighter and bomber pilots; some
were test pilots on top secret and sophisticated aviation
projects, while others were fleet admirals, prisoners of
war, and proposed pilots for spaceflight programs such as
the Dyna-Soar (X-20). The names of all 32 finalists have
been kept secret until very recently. "Selecting the Mercury
Seven" also relates the history and difficulties behind the
initial choice of candidates. The lives, motivations,
military careers, and achievements of the unsuccessful
twenty-five finalists are explored first in fully authorized
biographies. Test pilots for the U.S. Navy, Air Force, and
Marine Corps, each man has a fascinating and very different
story to tell. All thirty-two men had to endure meticulous,
demeaning, and brutal week-long medical examinations at the
Lovelace Clinic in New Mexico. This was followed by another
torturous week at the Wright Aeromedical Laboratory in Ohio,
where they were subjected to extreme fitness and
physiological testing, the sole purpose of which was to sort
out the Supermen from the near-supermen. The final part of
the book examines the accomplishments and spaceflights of
the seven successful candidates, bringing their amazing
stories right up to date.