Q: Where did your interest start with learning about Grissom?
A: I wanted to be an astronaut, a star voyager. As did many who grew up during the hectic 1960s, I became captivated by the adventures of the American space program. Dreaming of traveling among the stars, listening to an album containing the sounds of National Aeronautics and Space Administration missions, and even constructed models of the gigantic Saturn V rocket for my school’s science fair. I remain disappointed to this day at capturing only an honorable mention award for my display.
On the evening of July 20, 1969, I strained to stay awake in order to watch on television as Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon and to hear him utter the now-famous words: “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.” Space fever still gripped me a few years later when my family took a vacation to Spring Mill State Park, which is located near Mitchell, Ind. What impressed me was not the restored log cabins and working gristmill, or the blind fish swimming in Donaldson’s Cave, but rather a simple, low-slung structure near the park’s entrance: the Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom Memorial.”
Q: What did Gus Grissom mean to Indiana?
A: Grissom is still revered in Indiana. To commemorate the end of the 20th century, The Indianapolis Star in December 1999 announced an effort to name the 10 greatest Hoosiers of the past century. When all the ballots were counted, Grissom, the son of a railroad worker, ranked fifth in the voting, placing behind such legendary figures as businessman Eli Lilly, poet James Whitcomb Riley, war correspondent Ernie Pyle, and composer Cole Porter, and ahead of such great names as songwriter Hoagy Carmichael, comedian Red Skelton, businesswoman Madam C.J. Walker, basketball star Larry Bird, and former Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Tony Hulman.