01st Jul 2011

A Deke Slayton (Astronaught) Story

One of my current jobs is to maintain the website for the Deke Slayton Memorial Space & Bicycle Museum in Sparta, WI. I also post and monitor the Twitter channel (@slaytonmuseum) where I post specials or museum events. Every so often someone talks about visiting the museum. Recently a guy posted a story about his father meeting Deke Slayton before he joined NASA. The guy providing the story is Charles Dawson and he has given us permission to repeat his story. You can find out more about Charles HERE at his blog. Following is his story:

“I Knew A Guy, Became An Astronaut”

My Father has had some interesting times, has met some interesting people, and I bet he hasn’t told me the best stories yet. But I was surprised when he told me that he had worked with a guy who later became an astronaut. Not just any astronaut, either. Now, to me, ALL astronauts are heroes, rock stars for science nerds. But the Mercury 7 are have Super Hero status, they’re The Beatles of the Space Program. Yes, my Dad knew one of the Mercury 7.

He brought it up rather nonchalantly, as we drove from Portland to an Aviation and Space Museum near McMinnville, Oregon. It was after World War II, when Dad had been a Navy pilot. He was going to school at the University of Minnesota, and like many young men he took some work besides spending time in studies.

It was unloading box cars at “Monkey Wards”, as my Dad called it, in St. Paul. They paid 85 cents an hour. No health insurance, I’m sure. He worked there for about 4 months. His work partner there was someone who was very easy to like. Very level headed and unflappable. His name was Deke Slayton. All Dad knew was he was studying Aeronautical Engineering and had been an Army pilot. As a Navy pilot, my Dad jibed Deke that while he could navigate over water, Deke would navigate by following railroad tracks. At the time Dad did not know how many missions this easygoing freight car unloader had flown, but he did remember how he took the jibe without ire.

My Dad owned a a four cylinder inline Indian motorcycle. Appropriate transport for him, as far as I’m concerned. He said that he would sometimes give Deke a ride home after work. Deke lived in the Seven Corners neighborhood in Minneapolis. One time after dropping Deke off my he remembers going through the namesake intersection and took a turn he probably shouldn’t have. He hit a car on the front fender. The Indian only sustained minor damage, breaking a small marker light on the front fender.

When we arrived at the Museum, there was a large photo of the Mercury 7. My Dad looked and said, “There he is. Looks about the same as I remember him.”

My Father and Mr. Slayton, as far as I am concerned, went on to use their education at U of M very well. My Father became a very well respected teacher, then counselor, then administrator, furthering the education of so many students. Keith Wayne Dawson, PhD.
Deke Slayton, from what I read, was a good judge of character when he made the selections for missions. He chose a good work partner to ask for a ride home, too.

by: Charles Dawson

 

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