Hart veteran reaches for the moon
When Hart County native Travis Carnes went into the United States Air Force on Valentines Day in 1968, he had no idea his service would leave him with a very unique story to tell - by bringing him close enough to touch the moon.
His initial training took place at Lackland Air Force Base (AFB) in Texas. From there, he went on to Amarillo, Texas for air transportation training, followed by logistics training at Hill AFB in Utah.
In December 1968, Carnes made the journey to Da Nang, Vietnam for a one-year tour with the 15th Aerial Port Squadron. While there, he was housed in an area referred to as Rocket Alley, due to numerous bombings. In fact, Carnes remembered an attack where he woke up to a six-foot hole from a rocket impact and shrapnel being picked out of the sandbags just feet from where he was sleeping.
When Carnes left Vietnam in December 1969, he went to McChord AFB in Washington state for another year.
When it was time to come home on leave, Carnes drove all the way from Washington to Hart County in a 1962 Pontiac Star Chief. While cooling his heels at home, he learned that his next assignment was to go to Johnston Island in the Pacific Ocean.
Just before his leave was up, a Western Union telegram informed him that nerve gas on the island squashed that assignment and Carnes (a sergeant at the time) was to report to APO (Army/Air Post Office) San Fransisco, California for his next set of instructions.
“As I went in, this Colonel was in there, and I greeted him,” said Carnes. “He said ‘Who do you know in this group? Do you know where you’re going?’ I was scared. I thought I’m going back to Vietnam. He said ‘You’re going to Pago Pago, American Samoa.’ I thought ‘Where is that?’”
Amercian Samoa is a small group of islands in the south Pacific, part of the United States territory.
During two weeks of orientation in Hawaii in 1971, Carnes was given his instructions on being a liaison for the Military Airlift Command (MAC) at Pago Pago International Airport.
Civilian contractors manned the airport at Pago Pago, but Carnes (by then a staff sergeant) was charged with making sure they conducted operations in MAC protocol.
“During that assignment, I had communications with the aircraft pilots and I basically did a lot of the operations stuff,” said Carnes. “I had to go down and meet the aircraft when they came off the runway. We had two maintenance pits and three refueling pits. I had to bring them in.”
That same year was the time of the Apollo 14 mission, the eighth manned mission with the Apollo program and the third to land on the moon.
The three astronauts on that mission were Alan Shepard, Stuart Roosa and Edgar Mitchell.
“Basically they came in on a Navy helicopter,” said Carnes. “This was supposedly one of the missions where they brought back moon rocks. When they brought back the moon rocks, all this came off the aircraft. Shepard, Roosa and Mitchell, we had to get them transferred by red carpet onto a capsule in a C-141 aircraft back to the states.”
Carnes did not have security clearance to physically meet with the astronauts but he was in charge of coordinating the transfer. He also got to do something that few people can say they have done.
“Me, being military, I was involved with helping carry the moon rocks, which were in aluminum canisters, from the helicopter to another cargo aircraft,” said Carnes. “Basically, when all of that left, that was the end of that operation.”
Carnes has lots of very memorable experiences from serving his country over the years, but this particular assignment is one that he enjoys telling to his eight grandchildren, especially granddaughter Jenna Morris.
“It was a great assignment,” added Carnes. “I was honored to have that job. Everybody, whether it’s the Marines, the Air Force, or whatever, whatever job assignment you have it’s a job that protects the United States.”
A long way from Pago Pago and even longer from the moon, Carnes now restores N-Series Ford tractors at his home off Royston Highway and has been doing so for the last 30 years. He is a long-time member of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).