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In Memoriam
March 12, 1923-May 3, 2007
We've Lost a Tremendous Friend



"Levity is the lubricant of a crisis.  We resort to jokes, pranks and good natured kidding to relieve tension, stress and boredom." - Wally Schirra



A Final Tribute To Wally
Wally and I had just recently started working on a new video project.
The above was the first rough draft/prototype using photos from his most recent trip to MSFC.
Wally loved the idea and the music, so we're just going to leave it as-is, as Wally first saw it.
Keep your feet dry, my good friend. Thanks for everything!
-tracy

 

 

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 alive.

With much love and admiration,
Your humble WebSlave - Tracy
5 May 2007


The Schirra family has suggested that you may want to make a donation in Wally's name to one of the following organizations:
 

Astronaut Scholarship Foundation
6225 Vectorspace Blvd
Titusville, Fl 32780
(321) 269-6119
San Diego Air & Space Museum
2001 Pan American Plaza
Balboa Park, San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 234-8291
The Society of Experimental Test Pilots' Scholarship Foundation
P. O. Box 986
Lancaster, CA 93584-0986
(661) 942-9574


 

Wally Schirra Memorial Endowment Scholarship

The 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.

Jo Schirra was a member of their chapter for a few years and Wally introduced one of their Scientists of the Year several years ago.

The 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, Jr.

Wally 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). 

After 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.   

Wally 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.

Each 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 medicine.  

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. 

A 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:

ARCS Foundation, Inc./San Diego Chapter
P. O. Box 8394
Rancho Santa Fe, CA   92067-8394

If you would prefer to make a credit card donation, please contact us at:

sandiego@arcsfoundation.org

Thank you for your support!


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 First Astronauts"
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.

 


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