Gold Medal Connection
The USS Hornet Museum’s Gold Medal connection with Apollo 11
As the USS Hornet Museum was preparing to celebrate Splashdown 2009 during the 40th anniversary of the epic Apollo 11 lunar landing mission, the U.S. Congress was voting to award Congressional Gold Medals to four astronauts—Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins (for Apollo 11) and John Glenn (for Mercury 6). The New Frontier Congressional Gold Medal Act was passed unanimously on July 20, 2009.
The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian honor bestowed by the United States Congress. Only about 100 Congressional Gold medals have been awarded since George Washington was awarded the first one in 1776.
Working quietly but efficiently, the USS Hornet Museum contributed to this effort in many ways—sending emails to congressman and various veterans organizations, maintaining the public’s awareness through magazine and newspaper articles, educating families and youth groups via events such as Splashdown 2009, and even publishing a major splashdown and recovery book called Hornet Plus Three—The Story of the Apollo 11 Recovery.
While the New Frontier CGM medal was approved by Congress in July of 2009, two years passed before the design was finished and approved. Congress set the formal presentation date for the November 2011 timeframe.
The USS Hornet Museum was contacted by House Speaker John Boehner’s office in August of 2011 and asked to identify key individuals who were involved in the splashdown and recovery of Apollo 11 in 1969. The Museum’s list was submitted within just a few days and fully approved soon thereafter. These men, consisting of Navy and NASA personnel, along with their wives, formed the delegation that was invited to the presentation ceremony.
Finally, on November 16, 2011, the nationally-televised ceremony was held in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. Speaker Boehner recognized the contributions of the USS Hornet (CVS-12) within the first minutes of his opening remarks. He mentioned its flawless recovery of the space flight, which fulfilled President Kennedy’s May 25, 1961 challenge that ended with the words “and to return them safely to the earth."
After several speakers made comments, the medals were presented by Senators Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell and Representatives John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi to the four astronauts—Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins, and John Glenn. (See the video of the ceremony here.)
During the following private reception, the USS Hornet Museum delegation met with the Apollo astronauts, including Neil Armstrong, where they enjoyed the opportunity to chat about events that happened 40 years before. Neil took a few minutes way from a hectic schedule to thank each member of the recovery team for a “job well done.” Everyone involved in this exchange felt they were “just doing their job”—a heartfelt feeling that arises from the soul of every true American.