Sunday, April 20, 2014

On April 9th we were honored to hold a Cemetery Resource Protection and Training (CRPT) course on the property of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS).  Since 1949 this area has acted as the launching site for many of the first and most important manned space flights for the United States.

After WWII there was a need to develop missile technology to compete in a quickening arms race with what
would soon become known as the Cold War with the USSR.  The Cape was chosen as an ideal spot for long-range missile testing due to its proximity to the equator and the vast amount of space to, well, launch missiles into.  Missile technology rapidly advanced (as did competition with the USSR) and the Cape became one of the centers dedicated to the achievement of manned space flight.  The CCAFS has seen the GeminiMercury and Apollo missions launch into orbit and beyond, all from just off of an unassuming stretch of road which would come to be affectionately called Missile Row.

So why were we conducting a CRPT course along Missile Row?  I'm glad you asked.  Before the missiles, before the giant gantries, before the looming rockets with brave men strapped atop them, before all of this there was a lighthouse.  To be fair, before all of that there was a Big Bang, a few billion years, eons of geological change, millennia of humans descended from the first people to traverse into the Americas that called that land home, and a few other things thrown in there as well that happened.  But for now we'll focus in on the lighthouse.

The Cape Canaveral Lighthouse stands today about a mile and a half inland from where it originally stood closer to the coast and is operated as a museum which you can and should visit. The original brick structure was built in the early 19th century and stood 65 feet tall.  It was later increased to nearly 90 feet.  It was moved to its current site and in 1853 Mills O. Burnham became the keeper.  He remained the keeper for the next 33 years.  Today the lighthouse is a short drive from any of the beautiful communities surrounding the base, but in the mid-19th century the lighthouse may as well have been on the moon as far as civilization was concerned.  The keeper had his family, the assistant keeper's family and a few other homesteaders in the area for company.  As it was, the tiny community had to handle for themselves many of the things we often don't deal with today.  One danger that was always around the corner in Florida before air conditioners, before consistent and good supplies of medicine, and before a concerted effort to kill off as many mosquitoes as possible was the ever-present shade of Death. These small, scattered communities often had either family grave plots or small communal plots set aside for burial.  Today there are several of these plots (and much more) that are maintained by the 45th Space Wing Cultural Resources Manager, Thomas E. Penders.  So when Tom invited us out to hold a CRPT course and help clean a cemetery associated with the lighthouse families we jumped at the chance.

For the classroom portion of the course we were allowed to utilize the renovated bunker house at Launch Complex 14.  As many of you know, this is where the Mercury missions first sent Americans into space.  Alan Shepard was the first to be launched into space and later John Glenn would launch from this site to be the first to orbit the Earth.  It was a remarkable facility and for lunch we sat by the ramp that led to the gantry and had a conversation standing on the blast pad.
LC-14 Bunker Today
LC-14 Bunker in operation

A short distance away we spent the afternoon in one of several historic cemeteries on the CCAFS property.  Participants learned about proper cemetery recording techniques as well as best practices for cleaning headstones.  With elbow grease and a lot of good will we were able to clean the entire cemetery before the end of the day.  This was a a victory made all the sweeter as the next week happened to be the day set aside for the descendants of those buried on the property to visit their ancestors.  We hoped they would enjoy seeing the headstones greeting them looking brighter than they have in probably half a century.
Before cleaning
After cleaning

A special thanks for all of those who attended this CRPT course.  A very special thanks to Thomas E. Penders for arranging the opportunity to utilize such a unique location for our class.
Thanks to all!

Text and Images: Kevin Gidusko
Map: Nasa


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