Originally published in the Democrat and Chronicle - March 24, 2019
by Caurie Putnam
From July 16 to 24, thousands of veterans, dignitaries and history buffs are expected to gather in Alameda, California, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 recovery.
Among them will be Tom Hetherington of Hamlin, who served on board the aircraft carrier USS Hornet CVS12 when astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins splash downed in front of him (in person) and the eyes of the world (on television) on July 24, 1969.
The astronauts, who landed in the Pacific Ocean, 812 nautical miles southwest of Hawaii, had just completed the world’s first successful lunar landing mission.
“I can’t believe it has been 50 years,” said Hetherington, who also participated in the Apollo 12 recovery. “It was such a significant time in American history.”
Altogether, Hetherington served eight years in the US Navy, 3 1 / years of which were on the Hornet. He did two tours off the coast of Vietnam from 1967 to 1969 while the ship provided pilot rescues, coastal surveillance, anti-submarine warfare and Seal team insertions and extractions.
Hetherington was also involved in a special operation against North Korea in April 1969 following the deaths of 31 service members after their naval observation plane was shot down in international air space.
The Hornet CVS 12 was originally named the USS Kearsarge, but renamed the Hornet after the historic USS Hornet CV-8, which launched the Doolittle raid and was lost in October 1942. It’s most widely known for its recovery operation of the Apollo 11 crew and Hetherington, with his front-row seat to history, has amazing stories to share.
“When I first had visual contact the white and orange chutes popped out and you saw them going down into the ocean,” Hetherington said. “They came out of their capsule and onto the raft. There was applauding when they came on. We had to stay back a certain distance because NASA was worried about moon bugs.”
The Apollo 11 crew was immediately placed into a mobile quarantine capsule with a large window. Journalists, the ship’s crew and dignitaries, including President Richard Nixon and Adm. John Sidney McCain Jr. watched the incredible scene unfold.
“We knew the eyes of the world were on us,” Hetherington said. “The astronauts were waving to us and very excited, I hung upside down from a catwalk with my Kodak camera taking pictures.”
As the massive ship headed to Pearl Harbor, a broomstick was hung from the mast to signify the splashdown mission was a “clean sweep” (successful mission).
The Hornet CVS 12 was decommissioned in 1970. Hetherington’s name is listed inside as a plank member — someone who helped purchase the ship. It’s now at Alameda Naval Base where it’s a national and state landmark open for tours, Scouting events, weddings and more.
After Hetherington left the Navy he worked as an engineer at Kodak for 24 years, earning a master’s degree from Roberts Wesleyan College. He also served with the U.S. Army National Guard and as a volunteer firefighter and EMT in Hamlin and Churchville for many years. Currently he’s a bus driver with the Brockport Central School District and active with Rochester’s Chapter 20 of the Vietnam Veterans of America.
“I’m pretty excited to get back with the CVS 12 guys and my Vietnam veteran buddies,” said Hetherington, about the upcoming, eight-day-long Splashdown 50 Celebration at and around the ship. “It’s going to be big.”
To learn more about the Splashdown 50 Celebration, visit uss-hornet.org.
The Hamlin Fire Department has named their carnival building in memory of their former president Paul R. Seifert. Paul died on March 23, 2017 at the age of 80.
"In many different ways Paul touched the firefigheters, junior firefighters and many people in our community," said Michael Gross, current president of the Hamlin Fire Department.
A veteran of the United States Air Force, he volunteered with the Brockport and Hamlin Fire Departments for over 50 years and was a charter member of Brockport Ambulance.
Paul was also very active with St. Johns Lutheran Church in Hamlin and Hamlin Exempts.
A well attended dedication ceremony for the re-named building (which Paul helped build) was held on July 23.
"The building is such an important part of our community and the carnival and I know he'd be very proud," said Paul's son Paul Jr. "PR" Seifert. "A lot of him is already in the building. He was hugely involved in the carnival and loved the fire department."
UPDATE: The benefit for Stacey planned for 5/6 at the Vets Club has been postponed due to inclement weather. The new date is June 10.
Two upcoming benefits are planned to support Stacey Roberts - a long time Hamlin resident who was diagnosed with glioblastoma (a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer) on February 27, 2017.
Stacey and her husband Mike have three children who attend Brockport High School. An active community and scouting volunteer, Stacey works at
USA apparel in Brockport.
All money raised at the benefits will be used to offset the mounting expenses associated with Stacey's condition.
April 29, 5 p.m.
Begin at Brockport's C&S Saloon, 34 Main Street, where you will receive a tee-shirt, punch card and lei. There will be food and drink specials at the participating pubs. The cost is $15.
Standing With Stacey
May 6, 12 to 6 p.m.
Benefit will be held at the Brockport Area Veterans Club, 222 West Ave. There will be entertainment, raffles, vendors, food trucks, kids events and more.