The Last Man to Walk on the Moon
By Bill Santa Cruz
I was Christmas shopping at Park Place Mall (Tucson, AZ) in December of 2016 and was looking over chocolates in Fuzziwig’s Candy Factor, when an older gentleman in a wheelchair was escorted in by his caregiver. The gentleman wore a ball cap with various insignias haphazardly pinned, one being ‘NASA’, and a second that of a military full-bird colonel. I smiled and greeted “Hello, Colonel”, and he returned “Roger. Call me Roger.” “Are you retired Military?” I asked and he replied, “Yes, and you know what the best part of that is?” “What?” I asked. “That little check that comes every month” he replied then laughed.
“Roger Ramjet, huh?” I suggested. “You got it!” he replied. “So you’re a NASA fan?” I suggested and he replied, “Oh yes, I’m an astronaut. I was the last man to walk on the moon.” “Oh? I don’t recall an astronaut named Roger walking on the moon?” I suggested and he chuckled. “I just use that name around here” he informed. “So what is your name?” I asked. “Gene Cernan” he replied.
Considering that I was always glued to the television during the Apollo moon-landing missions, following a second look I said, “You do look familiar. So you knew Neal Armstrong and men like Bill Lear?”, and he noticeably perked up. “Oh yes! Neal was a brilliant mathematician. You could mention a multiplication problem and Neal instantly gave the correct answer…and faster than I could use a calculator. And Bill Lear was an aeronautical genius. You would mention an idea for an engine or an aircraft design and he would sit down and draw out the design, then he could take it into the shop and build it. All those guys like them were geniuses.”
“So what was your are area of genius?” I asked and he laughed and threw up his hands: “That’s just it, I didn’t have one and wondered ‘How the heck did I end up in the middle of all these geniuses?” “How did you fare with the ‘Vomit Commit?” I asked. “Good, and do you know the secret of beating it?” he asked in return. “No” I replied. “The night before, you eat spicy food and sleep on your left ear” he described. “I never heard that?” I suggested and he laughed again: “I don’t why it works, I only know that it works” he said then added, “Boy this fun, because nobody talks to me about this stuff anymore. Say, you’ll enjoy these!” Then with the widest of smiles he reached under his seat and pulled out photos from his astronaut days.
After hearing that he passed away on Monday, Jan. 16, 2017, I returned to Fuzzywig’s and mentioned to the employee, “Did you hear that Roger passed away?” She looked sad then replied “That’s why he hasn’t been in this week. Hey, you’re the man that he talked with just before Christmas?” “Yes. I just heard the news. Did you know who he was?” I asked. “No, I just Know that he was someone famous, but he said to call him ‘Roger.’ He would come in every day for a piece of chocolate, then that day after you left he said “That sure was a nice man. I hope I see him again because I like talking with him.”
*All information is our interpretation of in-house research and is therefore proprietary as well as confidential. Additionally, at this time advanced conditions of dementia disease and there equal normally do not present with sufficient stability for improvement by CTA.