Niagara Gazette

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September 27, 2012

HAMILTON: The power of patience and perseverance

Niagara Gazette — Salvatore Falco is a testimony to the power of patience and perseverance. In the end, a simple autograph on a picture from an aging astronaut would turn out to be the signature piece of his desires, and it would satisfy his very long wait.

Here is how it happened.

Four months and 50 years ago, Falco, a sailor, was eating lunch with the crew aboard the USS Farragut, itself anchored at the Roosevelt Roads Navy Station, about an hour’s drive from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

But on that May 24th day in 1962, a space ship was descending from high over their heads; and a miscalculation of just a few seconds plunged the destroyer’s crew into the year’s first brush with history.

Scott Carpenter, aboard the Aurora-7 spacecraft, was scheduled to splashdown in proximity to the helicopters of the USS Spiegel Grove’s recovery task force; which would pluck the disembarked Navy astronaut from the ocean. But the USS John R. Pierce, a destroyer, was the designated recovery ship for the actual capsule, itself.

Space flight was still in its infancy in those days, and the computerization that would have made Carpenter’s flight a more perfect one did not exist. But a series of events caused the vessel to splash down some 250-miles away from its intended location in the Caribbean Sea.

That left Falco’s ship to be one of the closest naval ships available to find and to assist the off-target spacecraft. Urgency and excitement pulsed through each of the ship’s crewmembers as they weighed anchor and rushed to the search and rescue area. They prepared the necessary rigging and lighting en route for the possible emergency recovery.

Falco said, “It was the USS Farragut’s radars that discovered the exact location of the capsule, and the ship directed the helicopters to it. By the time that we actually got there, the helicopters had already arrived and had plucked Carpenter from the water.”

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