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Navy Photographer Tells the Story of Apollo 11 Recovery

By PHC Milt Putnam, USN (Ret)

June 27, 1969 – Naval Air Station, Imperial Beach, California

Apollo 10-11  Milt Putnam

Photographer Milt Putnam standing alongside a Sikorsky Sea King helicopter on the deck of aircraft carrier USS Princeton, May 1969, for Apollo 10 recovery mission (Photo by Ralph Howard)

A banging on my door at Naval Air Station, Imperial Beach, California, shook me out of a deep sleep. It was 4 AM. Bill Case, a Senior Chief Journalist, from Pacific Fleet Headquarters Hawaii, was there with a big smile on his face. He asked, “Is your bag packed? We’re leaving for the Apollo 11 recovery this morning.” I replied “Take off time for USS Hornet is 10 hundred hours.” We talked for about an hour and finally he crawled into an empty bunk in my room so we could get a couple hours sleep. Bill and I had become friends during the Apollo 8 recovery, December 1968 on USS Yorktown, and Apollo 10 recovery, May 1969 on USS Princeton. Apollo 8 and 10 were the first manned flights to orbit the moon.

In late June, eight HS-4 helicopters with “Black Knight” flight crews landed on USS Hornet (CVS-12) seventy-five miles off the California coast. At Pearl Harbor the ship was loaded with additional recovery equipment, and US Navy Underwater Demolition Team 11 (UDT-11). Also boarding were civilian television crews, magazine, newspaper photographers and writers, including my photography friends Walter Green and Berry Sweet of The Associated Press and Pete Cosgrove with United Press International. Lee Jones, a NASA motion picture photographer, also joined us. Lee would fly the Apollo 11 recovery mission with me as he had during the Apollo 8 and 10 recoveries.

Apollo 11-1 Practice recovery

During practice recovery July 11, 1969, Navy UDT swimmers (wearing orange and standing on flotation collar) finish attaching the flotation collar around a dummy capsule, with USS Hornet in background. (Photo by Milt Putnam, HS-4)

For the first two weeks of July, off the Hawaiian Coast, Hornet, the helicopter crews, and UDT-11 got down to business training for the recovery of Apollo 11. It was practice, practice, practice in preparation for the real thing on July 24. During simulated recovery exercises UDT-11 swimmers jumped from helicopters into the Pacific Ocean and swam to the nearby training capsule (called a boilerplate) where they attached flotation collars to the dummy spacecraft, and playing the part of astronauts, were hoisted into helicopters time after time.

I flew in the Photo Helicopter shooting pictures for Navy and NASA archives. Several of my practice photos were released via the Associated Press and United Press International. Those images were published in newspapers and magazines throughout the country. Determined to study how rapid the Pacific light would change during the actual recovery, I began taking light exposure readings with a hand held lightmeter every minute or two on early morning practice flights.This taught me how often the exposure settings on my cameras would need to be changed. Those readings were recorded in a small notebook that has since been lost. (All of my Nikon cameras did not have built in light meters.)


On July 16, Apollo 11 launched from Florida. At that time, Hornet was about 1600 miles southwest of Hawaii at the Primary Launch Abort Area. If the astronauts had to make an emergency landing in the Pacific before leaving earths atmosphere this was the location. We heard the Apollo 11 launch broadcast over the ship’s radio and knew the astronauts were underway. Within three-hours of takeoff from Florida and over the Pacific Ocean the spacecraft blasted out of earth orbit toward the moon. (Hornet being so far from land, we were not able to see the launch on television). USS Hornet then sailed north to the Primary Recovery Site, 1200 miles southwest of Hawaii. For the next week, practice recoveries continued, each day starting before dawn and lasting through early evening in all kinds of weather. During this time frame, 16 or 17 training recoveries were completed.

The lunar module piloted by Neil Armstrong touched down on the moon on July 20 – “Houston, Tranquility Base here, The Eagle has landed.” As Armstrong spoke those words, everyone listened closely through crackling static air waves on the ships radio. Two and one half hours later we heard, “That’s one small leap for man, one giant step for mankind.” Armstrong was the first man to step onto the moon. Hornet was on station (splashdown recovery site), practicing and awaiting the astronauts return to earth.

Deteriorating weather with rain, high winds and rough seas approached the Primary Recovery Area and caused much concern on July 22. The Navy and NASA decided it was best to move the splashdown site to another location 250 miles from the storm. USS Hornet steamed at full speed to the new location 950 miles southwest of Hawaii. A few of the crew wondered if we’d be late for splashdown.

Meanwhile, we continued to test out cameras and equipment. Walter Green and I mounted two motorized Nikon cameras (fitted with a 28 mm lens and a 35 mm lens) about 12-15 feet high on the Hangar Bay bulkhead (wall). We would fire the cameras by electronic remote when the astronauts walked from helicopter #66 to the Mobile Quarantine Facility. The MQF was a silver Airstream trailer that would house up to six people. Walter and I shot test film to ensure the exposure, focus and area covered by the lenses were correct. In 1969, cameras did not have automatic focus and exposure control, everything was done by hand and eye. Satisfied with the test, the cameras were reloaded with Kodak black and white and color film and left on the bulkhead overnight awaiting the next day’s arrival of the astronauts.

A group of photographers, including myself, were sitting around shooting the bull when “Taps” played over the ship’s speakers at 10 PM, indicating bedtime. No one was sleepy – to tell the truth, we were a little nervous knowing that within a few hours we all would be photographing the first men to land and walk on the moon. It was near 12:30 AM when I went to bed, and still I could not sleep.

Three hundred hours (3 AM civilian time) on July 24, Apollo 11 Recovery Day, all hands involved with the recovery were up moving around and having breakfast. After breakfast, helicopter crews reported to the flight ready room. We received the latest weather reports, nearest distance to land, and last minute instructions about splashdown times and location. One helicopter would be on station a few miles behind USS Hornet, another the same distance in front. The primary recovery helicopter and the photo helicopter would circle the ship a mile or two out.

Preflighting the helicopters (making sure everything was operating OK) went fast and we lifted off the carrier in the dark. The sea air was balmy as it whipped through the open hatches. Rotor blades beating the air sent vibrations through everything and everyone inside. On board the photo helicopter, I had eight Nikon cameras. Only two had motors, the other six would have to be cocked by thumb. Lenses ranged from a 35 mm up to a 300 mm (no zoom lenses). Also in the camera bag were 60 rolls of Kodak Tri-X film and 15 rolls of Kodak color.

My primary duty was to shoot black & white for immediate release through the Associated Press (AP) and United Press International (UPI) wire services. By using the AP and UPI, my recovery images would be transmitted to magazines and newspapers throughout the world.

In 1969 civilian press photographers were not allowed to fly in military helicopters. It was my job to photograph the splashdown, the UDT-11 swimmers attaching the flotation collar around spaceship Columbia to secure it in the tossing seas, the astronauts leaving Columbia and crawling into the life raft, and Columbia being hoisted out of the sea by the helicopter. And then back aboard Hornet to photograph the President talking with the astronauts.

Splashdown and Recovery

It seemed like hours sitting high above Hornet waiting for Apollo 11 to arrive. Everyone was watching the dark morning sky, even though we all knew she would not arrive early. Word came from Hornet a few minutes before 6 PM (Hawaiian time), that Apollo 11 had been picked up on radar and would splashdown twelve miles downwind from the ship. I lowered the port hatch (door on the left side) on the photo helicopter. Lee Jones and I would sit side by side on the hatch steps shooting pictures of the recovery. While lowering the hatch my lightmeter cord became tangled and broke. The meter dropped into the sea and sank.

Apollo 11-3  Navy Seal gets set to help astronauts leave cap

Standing in the helicopter’s hatch, Navy UDT swimmer LT Clancy Hatleberg gets set to jump into the water. (Photo byMilt Putnam,HS-4)

Helicopter #66, the primary recovery helicopter, and the photo helicopter #53, approached the splashdown site in predawn darkness to find Columbia upside down and bobbing in fairly calm seas. The astronauts sitting upside down in Columbia pushed a button to inflate three large flotation balloons to upright their craft. My helicopter moved to the right 100 feet and hovered at 40 feet. We would stay at that spot until all three astronauts were hoisted into the recovery helicopter. Commander Don Jones, flying helicopter #66, slowly moved in and dropped a marine location marker (green smoke bomb). At the break of dawn, one of the helicopters with the UDT-11 swimmers hovered near Columbia and three swimmers jumped into the ocean. A second helicopter following closely dropped life rafts and the flotation collar that would be used to help prevent Columbia from sinking. It took only a few minutes for the swimmers to attach the flotation collar and position the life rafts. It was getting lighter by the second and I was already firing the Nikons, shooting whole 36 exposure rolls of film before changing to another camera and lens. Lee Jones, the NASA photographer seated to my right, had his 16 mm motion picture camera rolling as well.

The primary recovery helicopter made a slow pass near Columbia. Navy Lt. Clancy Hatleberg, the senior UDT-11 swimmer, jumped ten feet or so into the water and swam to the command module. The next helicopter used its rescue basket to lower a bag containing four uniforms never worn by space travelers before. The uniforms, biological isolation garments, were worn by the astronauts and Hatleberg during recovery because it was unknown if the astronauts would return to earth from the moon carrying some kind of germ or virus that would cause harm. Hatleberg slipped into one of the biological isolation garments while the other swimmers in a raft moved 100 feet upwind from Columbia.

Apollo 11-4  Navy Seal closes hatch to Apollo 11 capsule

Looking on as Navy UDT swimmer LT Clancy Hatleberg closes the capsule’s hatch, astronauts Michael Collins, Neil Armstrong (center) and “Buzz” Aldrin, sit in their life raft. (Photo by Milt Putnam)

At 6:20 AM, Hatleberg quickly open the command module hatch and tossed in three remaining uniforms and closed the hatch just as quickly. After a short wait, Hatleberg opened the hatch again and out came three moon adventurers covered head to toe wearing biological isolation garments. Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin settled at each end of the life raft. Neil Armstrong sat in the middle and watched Clancy Hatleberg closely as he closed Columbia‘s hatch and locked it down. Hatleberg sprayed a decontaminate over the module and around the hatch. He then wiped down each of the astronauts with a sodium hypochlorite solution to kill any moon germs that may have gotten on their BIG suits before they exited the command module

The primary helicopter #66 moved over the spaceship and astronauts, lowering her rescue net to hoist each astronaut one at a time into the helicopter. If I had jitters they were gone – the job at hand was foremost on my mind and I was shooting pictures as fast as possible. My mind was on automatic – shoot a few pictures, change the f/stop a little, ensure the next camera was still set on 1/250 of a second shutter speed, check the f/stop. Remember that the shutter speed would soon have to be reset at 1/500 of a second because the light was getting brighter. Shoot another roll of film, load film, etc. The light exposure readings recorded in a notebook during practice recoveries never came out of my pocket. In fact, I didn’t even think about it.

Apollo 11-8  Neil Armstrong is hoisted to helicopter

HS-4 helicopter 66 hoists astronaut Neil Armstrong aboard. (Photo by AWHC Norvel Wood, HS-4)

When the last astronaut was lifted from their life raft into the recovery helicopter the photo helicopter raced back to Hornet. It was also Lee Jones and my job to photograph the astronauts as they stepped from the recovery helicopter and walked into the Mobile Quarantine Facility where they were to spend the next three days. On the way back to the carrier, I stuffed 52 rolls of exposed film into the zippered pockets of my flight suit and 8 or 10 rolls of unexposed film into another pocket. I loaded three cameras to use in the hangar bay for when the astronauts arrived. I left five Nikons and the remaining unexposed film on the helicopter for pickup later.

The photo helicopter was the first chopper back aboard Hornet. I jumped from the helicopter to the flight deck (about four feet) without realizing I was still wearing my safety belt. It was still connected to the inside of the helicopter. Toes barely touching the deck and cameras swinging from my neck and shoulders, I almost fell over before setting a speed record in getting out of a safety belt. If anyone noticed or saw my predicament no one said a word.

President Richard M. Nixon

Walking across the flight deck, I noticed the President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, watching the incoming helicopters. I stopped and shot a few pictures for the naval archives and then proceeded on to the hangar bay. President Nixon and several of his staff had arrived thirty minutes before splashdown. The Presidential secret service were on Hornet a day or two before the President arrived ensuring it was safe for his visit. As a safety factor, the flight crews were ordered to turn in all weapons. We were allowed to fly with our very sharp six inch blade survival knives. The knives were needed in case a helicopter went into sea with sharks present, or it could be used to cut and saw through thick Plexiglas windows to get out of a sinking helicopter. Lee Jones and I worked our way through hundreds of sailor (who were trying to see the astronauts and President) to our assigned spots in the hangar bay. Our location was right in front of the MQF where everything would take place. We joined dozens of news photographers and writers who were also covering the recovery and the President.

Apollo 11-10  President Nixon jokes with astronauts

President Nixon welcomes the astronauts home on board USS Hornet. (Photo by Milt Putnam, HS-4)

The Apollo 11 astronauts landed on Hornet, thirty-seven minutes after Clancy Hatleberg had opened Columbia‘s hatch the first time. Helicopter #66 was towed to an elevator and lowered to hangar bay level where the Mobile Quarantine Facility awaited. As the astronauts walked to the MQF, I remembered to fire the bulkhead mounted Nikon electrically. Those pictures really helped to tell the story of Apollo 11’s recovery.

One of my best photos of the day was taken in the hangar bay of President Nixon speaking to Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin through the MQF glass window. The President was telling a joke about astronaut Frank Borman. (Borman was Command pilot of Apollo 8, first flight to orbit the moon.) The picture shows Armstrong leaning down and looking to his right trying to see Frank Borman. Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins are laughing. The president is shown pointing toward Borman and laughing at the joke.

Apollo 11-12  President Nixon requests recovery photos

President Richard Nixon asks Photographer Milt Putnam to send him photos of the recovery (Photo by Unknown)

Knowing the President would be leaving the ship shortly after talking with the astronauts, I ran to the flight deck to get pictures of him shaking hands and speaking with some of the sailors. On the flight deck, a long line of men were waiting for the President. As I came alongside the sailors, President Nixon appeared through an open hatch and stepped onto the flight deck. Immediately a secret service man stepped behind me and placed a hand on my left shoulder. Walking backwards taking pictures of the President shaking hands, the secret service guy stayed with me step for step. Suddenly I bumped into him and instantly both his hands were on my shoulders and he said “This is as far as we go, bub.” We were near the Presidential helicopter. Later I realized the Navy survival knife was still attached to my flight suit. President Nixon stopped in front of me. We shook hands and he ask if I would send him pictures of the recovery. He then boarded Marine ONE and lifted off for Johnston Island 250 miles away.

Developing Film and Making Prints

Walter Green (Associated Press) developed all my film. Upon seeing how many rolls of black and white film I had, he said, “Bet you didn’t miss much,” and I said, “Walter, If I did miss something, I couldn’t ask Neil to do it again.”

As Walter finished developing several rolls of film at a time and it dried, Barry Sweet (Associated Press) edited the first run of film and chose five of my images shot from the photo helicopter, and four he and Walter had shot on the ship. I started printing and drying the pictures at a rapid pace. This completed, Barry typed captions for the photos and I stuck the captions on the prints. Each photo was transmitted singly over the wire service transmitter. Transmitting a single print was about a fifteen minute process.

Barry and Walter’s orders were to transmit the recovery pictures directly to Associated Press Headquarters in New York. There the AP editors would do a second edit and release everything to magazines and newspapers. We had been transmitting for about an hour when someone came running in with a message (telegram) from AP New York.
It read, “Stop transmitting to NY, receiving double images. Retransmit everything through San Francisco.” Here we were sitting in the middle of the Pacific Ocean transmitting pictures that were going both ways east and west around the globe creating a double image in New York. It took thirty minutes to connect with San Francisco.

Walter continued developing film. When it dried he and Barry selected more images for me to print and make ready for transmitting. I have no idea how many pictures we placed on the AP wire that day, July 24, 1969, but it must have been 25 – 30 prints. It was midday when Pete Cosgrove (United Press International) came by the AP transmitting room and asked if he could use a few of my recovery photos. He selected the astronauts seated in a raft with Clancy Hatleberg at Columbia‘s hatch and the three astronauts being hoisted into the helicopter. Also selected was one picture taken with the bulkhead mounted camera of the astronauts walking to the MQF.

Recovery Day Comes to an End

At the end of a very long day, I gathered up all my film, put it in envelopes and safely stored it in a locker with my cameras. This film would be captioned on the way back to Hawaii and later mailed to the Naval Photographic Center, Washington, DC. Lee Jones (NASA) had already collected the color film, which would be developed by NASA. I had not eaten since breakfast, but I was so tired by 8 PM that I laid down on my bunk still wearing boots and flight suit to rest for a couple of minutes before hitting the shower. I awoke at 6 AM the next morning still dressed.

The next day, Walter Green found me in the mess hall. He had a telegram from AP New York that read newspapers around the world had used more pictures that I had taken from the photo helicopter than any others. Years later a computer check showed that my photography took up nearly two-thirds of the front page of the Chicago Tribune and nearly half of the front page of The Washington Post. Newspapers in Los Angles, St. Petersburg, London and Japan also carried my pictures.

On July 26, the Mobile Quarantine Facility (with astronauts inside) was lifted off Hornet and transported on a flatbed trailer to Hickam Air Force Base and flown to Houston aboard a USAF C-141. Lee Jones was also departing the ship, but before leaving he gave me a piece of Mylar from the command module Columbia. This mylar had orbited the moon while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were walking on the moon’s surface. It also was part of the spaceship’s shielding against radiation while in space.

Everyone involved with the recovery had the next day off. A couple of friends and I went to Waikiki Beach, walked around awhile, and then saw the movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

USS Hornet sailed for Long Beach, California on July 28, following a very successful and historic mission. We were two days away from the California coast when I received a telegram informing me that my grandfather Andrew Brown Carver (he was known as Dude Carver.) had died at age 73. Commander Don Jones (Commanding Officer HS-4) offered to fly me off the ship but knowing I could not arrive in South Carolina in time for the funeral, I chose to remain on the ship and remember him as he looked the last time we met. A couple days before leaving Imperial Beach for the Apollo 11 recovery in June, I had called my Grandfather at the hospital, and we spoke for about 15-minutes. When Orville Wright made the first airplane flight December 17, 1903 at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, my grandfather was seven-years old. During his life he had seen aviation grow from that first flight, to watching the first men to walk on the moon via television in his hospital room.

It was mid-morning August 1 when Helicopter Squadron Four’s helos lifted from Hornet‘s flight deck for the three-hour flight to Naval Air Station, Imperial Beach.

Thinking Back

In a lifetime of taking pictures, I can safely say, I’ve never had a more exciting photographic assignment than the Apollo 11 recovery, over 40 years ago. Some of the memories from that day seem like yesterday. I can still hear the wop-wop-wop noise from the photo helicopter rotor blades and feel the vibration throughout my whole body. I can still feel the warm humid air from the rotor blades washing over me and throughout the helicopter.

I can still hear the photo helicopter pilot and co-pilot talking through the ear-phones in my helmet. Pilot – “Hatleberg is about to jump.” (Meaning the UDT-11 swimmer is about to jump into the ocean). Co-pilot – “He’s jumping close”. (Meaning close to the command module). The pilot asks me-“is the wing high enough.” (Meaning, is the rotor blade out of the pictures.) I answer, “Yes Sir, we are doing good.” Pilot -“Recovery-one is hoisting Armstrong”.

It was a tingling thrill to see the astronauts crawling out the command module into a life raft. I thought, these men just returned from the moon. My adrenaline was pumping, faster than the Nikon camera motors could shoot.

I’m very proud to have been chosen to photograph history.

I always stand a little taller when I see one of my recovery pictures in a library book, a magazine, newspaper or anywhere. I think – wow, those pictures will be seen forever.

Milt Putnam retired from the Navy in 1979 as a Chief Photographer’s Mate. In addition to covering the recovery of Apollo 8, 10, and 11 for the Navy, he photographed the Queen of England’s visit to Boston, a three-month expedition to Antarctica with The National Science Foundation, the return of POW’s from Vietnam, and earthquake relief in Peru. He later worked for several newspapers, and as Director of Photography for the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agriculture. Sciences. In November 2011, Putnam, along with others from the Apollo 11 Navy recovery team, was invited to attend the ceremony awarding Congressional Gold Medals to astronauts John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin, see photo below. Footage of the ceremony can be found on C-SPAN, including specific mention of USS Hornet and the recovery crew at about 1:30 in to the video.

CGM - Neil and Milt

Neil Armstrong greets Milt Putnam in November 2011. Putnam was the primary military photographer covering Apollo 11 from its splashdown in the Pacific until President Nixon joked with the astronauts in their Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF) aboard USS Hornet. (Photo by Capt. Bruce Johnson, USN, Retired)

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  1. Michael Wheat

    Interesting story which brings back fond memories. I was a Navy journalist stationed aboard Hornet from January 1967 until June 1970. On splashdown day I shot 32 rolls of slide film, including the photo of Milt with President Nixon on the flight deck. I was also editor of the Hornet cruisebook for Apollo 11.

  2. I remember Milt very well as I sailed on the Hornet out of Pearl with the privilege of covering the Apollo 11 recovery for world-wide radio….largest radio audience of all time. Many of us from the news media, the Navy or NASA still convene every five years aboard Hornet just to re-live the friendships we developed back in July of 1969. I sincerely hope that Milt will be among those of us who, given continued good health and fitness, will be back aboard the great gray lady in Alameda in 2014. All the best.

  3. As a professional photographer, I was very intrigued by Milt Putnam’s wonderful eyewitness account of covering the Apollo 11 splashdown and recovery. I had a good high-level overview from reading the book Hornet Plus Three (written by Bob Fish), but found this in-depth account very insightful!
    I wasn’t lucky enough to be there for “the splashdown” but did have the GREAT opportunity of photographing the 40th Reunion of the Recovery of Apollo 11 on the USS Hornet in 2009!

  4. Richard (Rich) Barrett

    I was the pilot of Swim 2 (Helo #64). Nice article. Reunited via e-mail with
    UDT Swimmers Wes Chesser and John Wolfram during 40th annniversary of
    the Recovery. Great memories and nice article by Milt Putman.
    Wishing you the best Milt. Also, a good book published by Scott Carmichael recently
    Mem Return from the Moon.

    • Steve Muench

      Nice to know you Rich. I have a great photo of me standing in the doorway of Helo #64 on the deck of the Hornet during the Apollo 11 cruise. I was an SFP1 in charge of the crew responsible for shutting off the discharge valves on the side of the ship as we maneuvered to pick up the capsule out of the water. On our trial runs it didn’t go over well with the UDT crew that they were getting dumped on (and you know what I mean by DUMPED) so I was tasked with putting together a crew to stop the flow. My kids love the photo. If you’d like a copy, email me.

      • Rich Barrett

        A little late, but I would very much like a copy of the photo.

        • D Dean

          I’m a friend of a former member of UDT-11, Ron Bateman, who just passed away a few days ago. Ron was a little confused (or confusing) about his role in the recovery of Apollo 11, and I was wondering if you remember how he was involved. He was definitely a swimmer for Apollo 10 and was very proud of that. Thanks for any information you can provide.

    • Jessica Byers

      Hi I just recently heard my grandfather was involved in this rescue mission but I can’t find any facts to back it up. His name was charley or chuck byers. He was a navy seal did anyone ever know him? Or how can I look any information up about him!

    • Bryan Thornhill

      Hi Richard,

      My stepfather was Curtis Hill, who was a crewman in Helo 64 with you. Curt unfortunately passed away in 93 from lung cancer. With all the talk in the news recently about the 50th, it got me searching for info about his time on the Hornet and I came across this. I’d love to hear from you and if you have any old photos of the crew during this time.

  5. Brandon Jones

    Lee William Jones was my grandfather. It is interesting to read your story; makes me wish I knew him better. He died when I was 14, but recently I was sent a book written by my uncle Ken Jones about his life. I am not very computer savvy, but apparently it is online somewhere. The name of the book is “Behind the lens to the moon”. Thank you for keeping the memories of great men like my grandfather alive. He never received credit for his work, but he never cared. He used to say that he was the luckiest man on earth.

    • Mary Mattson

      Brandon Jones! I knew your grandfather very well. He and my father were very good friends and they both worked at Moffett Field in Mountain View, CA. I remember visiting with Lee along with my parents and he gave us a tour of his basement with all the memories. He was a wonderful person and I consider it a priviledge to have known him. In fact, he took my wedding pictures back in 1968 and never charged me a cent. I also remember the show at the Rosecrusian Museum in San Jose. An artist was commissioned to make bronze busts of 10 people who had made significant contributions to the history of the United States and your grandfather was one of the people so honored.
      I am going to see if I can find the book you mentioned. I would love to have a copy of it. Hope it’s on Amazon. You can contact me at [email protected]

    • Patricia Lee Jones Akrabawi

      Brandon: I’ll be happy to send you a copy of my dad’s book if you want one.

      Aunt Pat

  6. Peter Cosgrove

    Me, Walter Green and Barry Sweet were the wire service photogs on that recovery. Green and Sweet for AP and me for UPI. Walter passed away recently.I spent about 40 years with the wire services, the apollo 11 and the Challenger disaster at KSC were the two biggest story’s I’ ve covered. U can reach me at [email protected]

  7. My new book is out and has some Apollo 11 stuff in it. See it at Amazon or Barnes and Noble. It’s called “Split Seconds,” by Barry Sweet.

  8. Peter Cosgrove

    I was on the Hornet for UPI, Walter Green and Barry Sweet were there for AP. We were a NASA pool. Xmitted B&W prints to the USA from a toho xmitter from the Mutual Broadcasting truck on the flight deck. I’ve chatted with Milt Putnam re UPI involvement in the photo pool. We were as much involved as anyone. Milt has apologized. AP did screw the pool, we made an arrangement went we got close to Honolulu that the pool was over and no more pics would be taken. AP screwed the pool(Barry Sweet) by going down to the mobile quaranty facility and taking a pic of the 3 by the window. They tossed the film to someone waiting on the dock and made many front pages. So much for being honest. Walter said he had mothing to do with it.

    • Barry

      I never agreed no more photos were to be taken and as you stated, the pool was over. Maybe Walter did. Tough luck. News is news and this was the biggest story of the time.

      • Peter Cosgrove

        You really weren’t involved in the pool, it was me and Walter. When I ran into u three in the bar next to the newspaper the first thing Walter said “I had nothing to do with it”. You will live the rest of your life being the sneak u are.AMEN.

        • Barry Sweet

          The pool was not you and Walter. It was the AP and UPI. I was not a sneak but you were a ?!??!!. You have quite an impression of yourself because you screwed up. I didn’t just show up on Apollo 11. I did Apollo 8 and 10 before.

  9. Peter Cosgrove

    Milt, I reread your article. I SOUPED THE FILM, GREEN EDITED, I XMITTED THE 5 x 7 PRINTS FROM THE MUTUAL TRAILER ON THE FLIGHT DESK.. The echo was caused by press wireless receiving the signal from around the world from the east and then the west. We solved that problem. I regret that in your book you give such disregard to UPI. Walter and I covered four missions together and we worked as a team. The only hitch in UPI/AP pool relations during Apollo 11 were the arrival of Barry Sweet. He screwed the pool, if u know the wire service…once u screwed the pool your reputation is done, and Mr. Sweet is done.,

  10. Tom McTigue

    I was a member of the USS Hornet’s C-1A crew during Apollo 11and Apollo 12. If my memory serves me right, we carried some of your photo equipment on and off the ship. We also took some of you and people from ABC TV on some flights out of Barbers Point, while practicing for the recovery off of Hawaii, before heading to recovery areas.

  11. Alfred Hassebrock

    Did anyone take pictures of the USS Arlington AGMR-2.
    We were the only ship on site to see the splashdown!
    I would appreciate any photos of the Arlington on site July 24th 1969.

    Alfred Hassebrock
    Witness to History-July 24th 1969

    • Joel Petersen

      I too was on the Arlington during Apollo 11. I ran the Personnel Office and remember how the Skipper was so stressed about President Nixon spending the night on our ship. The President visited the enlisted mess hall and thanking crew. He left our ship about 03:00 by chopper to the Hornet and as you know, we had a better view of the splashdown.

      • John King

        I was on the Arlington as well during the Apollo 10 and 11 splashdowns. On Apollo 11 I and another machinist mate ran the machinery that operated the flight deck elevator (Arlington was the former aircraft carrier Saipan) When Marine One carrying President Nixon arrived on Arlington for the overnight stay the secret service requested that all elevator machinery be kept running the entire time President Nixon was on board Arlington in case he had to leave in an emergency since Marine One was below decks in the hangar bay. Therefore the two of us manning the elevator machinery were up all night without meals or breaks. I was able to get topside after Nixon departed in time to see the capsule coming down in the distance We heard from other sailors that the secret service preceded Nixon into the mess decks during the evening meal and confiscated all knifes and forks leaving only spoons to eat the evening meal with. I still have envelopes I mailed home with the Apollo 10 and 11 commenerative stamps on them. Still amazing memories after over 50 years

  12. Susan L. Meadows Fortner Richardson

    I’m just looking back on memories and wondering if anyone has pictures of the crew pulling in the space rocket capsule from the ocean ? It has my father in them ,My dad has since passed away .. Unfortunately the situation with my step-mother has left me without photos of my dad’s days in the Navy or this event that he always talked about when I was a child .. All I can tell you is his name and what I remember seeing him doing on the ship . I have tried to pull up Archived photos from National Geographic because they did a story on it with the photos but I can’t seem to locate the ones I’m looking for … If anyone could help me I would be very grateful … My dad’s name is William Hubert Fortner , He served the Navy and then the Coast Guard until he retired ..Thank you for any help you can give me . Sincerely your Susan

    • Susan L. Meadows Fortner Richardson

      I forgot to mention that the publication of the story and photos was around 1969 .

      • Hizuru Wenzelburger

        This is more than likely too late, and this reply will never reach you, but I have a photo of the crew taken in front of the Apollo II capsule. This was aboard the USS Hornet. Unfortunately, I do not have a list of names of the crew , but it may have your father in it.

    • Rolf Sabye

      I was a QM2 and stationed on the bridge of the Hornet during splashdown of Apollo11. A book was published by the ship’s photo crew, which has several shots of the actual lifting of the capsule onto elevator 3. I can scan those for you, but you may also wish to contact Mike Wheat who has posted on this site. He was part of the photo gang and has many old B&W shots of the event.

      • MaryFrance Boulden

        you have pictures? My Dad was on of the Air Force Para Rescue team that day, SGT Doyle A France. do you remember him? is he pictured in the Book??

  13. Anyone can look it up, but here was the deal. ABC was pool TV, and the pool still organizations were UPI, AP, Life Magazine, National Geographic and World Book Science Service. Milt Putnam was the military photographer.
    Forget all of our egos. The best pictures were made by Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong on the moon.

  14. Forrest Robinson

    I was RM3 on the morning of the splashdown, and remember it well. The morning was cold and grey. The ocean was choppy. The USS Hornet, with President Nixon, and the press, was miles away when the space craft dropped down beside us. We circled it until the Hornet arrived. I have photos of that morning. I will never forget that day.

  15. Rolf Sabye

    Apollo 11 was of course the big event. But Apollo 12 was much more rewarding for us Hornet crew members. The weather was calm and perfect, with clear skies. We saw the red & white chutes open and gently drop the capsule into the ocean.
    Also, since there were no longer any quarantine requirements, the astronauts were able to step off the helicopter without any of the protective gear used for Apollo 11.
    It was great to be part of such historic events, and to work on the bridge and seeing the whole show.
    I’m still involved with the USS Hornet, now a museum in Alameda CA.

  16. jeremy moore

    My question is how come the other 19 photographers don’t get credit for this I personally knew one them Dennis Carl Frain was on the cvs 11 and twelve recovery missions and I have moon and Nixon putting firsrt foot on the ship also almost the SAME PICTURES a little different with Nixon talking with astronauts I am rambling but these other deserve just as much credit and by the way dennis carl frain my friend claimed to have been ill from getting agent orange not sure if its spelled correctly but he says he was never around that stuff but it s odd that’s how he died don’t you think?

  17. Brian Mensch

    My father was a rescue diver on some of these missions I’m trying to find out any information available

  18. I would love to have a few photos of the Navy Diver, Morris Hickman. He helped in the recovery of the Apollo Space Crafts and the Gemini Space Crafts. I am serving with him on active duty status now in the Texas State Guard and would love to have a few photos to pass down to my Grand Children along with a few pictures of him and I in Uniform now. I have to think having the connection that I can show my GrandChildren could be life changing for them. I was raised in a very small Kentucky town and met Morris several years ago while working together on a training exercise. He is as humble of a man as you can imagine and I would love to pass this history along to another younger generation.

  19. Thank you for the information that will help preserve the historic events of the Space Race for all mankind to enjoy.x

  20. MaryFrance Boulden

    My Dad too was one of the Air Force Para Rescue team on Apollo 11 1969. His name is SGT Doyle France. Anyone remember him or have picture of this jump?

    • Chris Deets

      I wonder too, my dad was a pararescue jumper at the same time, SGT Vincent Deets.

  21. Roger J Duclos (ITC retired)

    I was aboard the USS Arlington (AGMR-2) Apollo 10 and 11. I met President Nixon when he came aboard our ship to meet us. I was 20 years old and as I recall, Apollo 10 was supposed to splash down near the recovery ship but I went top side and witnessed the amazing site of those huge parachutes as it came down near our ship. We were ordered away and the recovery ship had to steam to us to recover them. I was in the radio room on the day Neil Armstrong landed on the moon and remember listening to our live broadcast of the event, by the way our ship was the commemoration stamp postal office of the Apollo 11. I mailed one to my family but it probably got lost over the years. I served 4 years active and 27 total and retired a chief petty officer ITC (RM)

    • Gary Smith

      Were you stationed in Yokosuka Japan following your time on USS Arlington (AGMR-2)?

  22. Fred Tonge

    I was on the Hornet 68-69 Marine Detachment. Before President Nixon came aboard, the secret service had to be notified that every round of ammo had to be accounted for. We were all carrying 45’s then and their was all kinds of ammo on the ship, plus if their were any in Special weapons.We were the security for the ship.
    I’ll always remember one late night after the astronauts were in the MQF another Marine and myself had guard duty when the ship was on the way back to Hawaii, i caught some civilian reporter trying to get in our secure area behind the MQF. Well i pulled my 45 and lock and loaded . Well anyway he froze and started to piss his pants. So then the cpl of the guard wakes up our first sgt. Roland E Helton and comes up in his shower shoes and tells me that i did what i was suppose to do Then he says to me later on i hate those reporters. All they are doing is making our jobs harder . I have so many stories about that time.

  23. Wendy Papagan

    Wow. This has been amazing perspective to read about all the varied individual experiences all coming together on one very important moment in history. My father was one of the Secret Service agents accompanying President Nixon that day on the USS Hornet. My family has always treasured the photo taken of my dad and the 3 other agents onboard the deck of ship. In the photo is all four agents – Tuffy Hamillton (my dad), Mike Varenholt, Mack Richardson, and Chuck Zboril standing on the deck with the recovery helicopters flying in sky behind and Apollo 11 capsule visible floating in water in the distance. Quite remarkable. So now here to read about so many people involved in the many facets of that day’s recovery mission is fascinating! My dad told me that the photo of he and other agents was taken by a White House press photographer and that photographer called out to my dad and got them all to look over to him right in that shot. He then dropped a copy of the photo in my dad’s mail box at the agent command post in the White House.

    • Joe Holt

      Wendy, I am completely clueless as to how old this thread it, but I just found it today. I would very much like to see your copy of the four Secret Service guys. I happened to get Flight Deck duty that day. I always seemed to be at odds with the Secret Service guys, not that there were any actual altercations, but I was a Marine Sergeant responsible for the flight deck security (or so I thought) and your Dad’s bunch thought THEY were. Silly me.

  24. I was on the the USS Arlington (AGMR-2) on 24 July 1969 and remember well the the splashdown of the Apollo 11 command module. I remember the sonic boom of the module as it was descending to earth. Shortly after that the orange parachutes were clearly visible. The Arlington was closer to the splashdown than the Hornet. We had a much better view. The helos circuling the spacecraft as it was decending were also very visible. If I remember correctly it was a little hazy that morning, but we could clearly see the spacecraft as it slowly descended. That was the highlight of my time in the US Navy. I will never forget that day. I also witnessed the splashdown of the Apollo Ten command module. I was a RMSN (Radioman) and a mess cook when the Apollo II command module splashed down. I remember running from the mess deck up to the antenna deck of the Arlington to see the splashdown. I had a cheap camera and the photos I took hardly showed a thing. I remember President Nixon coming aboard the Arlington the day before the Apollo II splashdown. Early morning the next day he left for the Hornet. He should have stayed aboard the Arlington, we were much closer to the splashdown. We had a better view because we were closer to it than the Hornet. After the recovery we set sail for Pearl Harbor. I remember seeing the scorched command module aboard the Hornet at Pearl. After the Navy I joined the Oklahoma highway patrol and retired in 2005. July 24, 1969, I’ll never forget that day. B. Schulze, Kingston, OK.

  25. Darryl Smith

    My Dad was the Maintenance Chief for the 66 helicopter for at least one of the 8,10, 11,12 and 13 missions, I can’t remember the details, but I know it was his helicopter, throughout that period. He even got mentioned on the TV during the recovery of at least on Apollo 12. He was the one who hung the “3 More Like Before ” sign on the aircraft. He is Richard Smith, still alive and kickin’ in the Texas Hill Country.

  26. Charlie Johnson

    The picture that no one has and I only wish I had a camera to capture it. I was aboard HORNET with VAW-111 and was up early to muster my department on the flight deck. Nixon had a bad night’s sleep aboard the Arlington. The seas were not rough for sailors but the rocking ship, the bumpy helicopter ride and the movement of HORNET’s flight deck made Nixon nauseous. As he stepped through the hatch at the island, he lost his cookies. His people surrounded he so no one could see and the mess was cleared up immediately. I would bet that some of the crew that was on duty at the island might have had their cameras out to get a photo of Nixon. If you are out there and have any, I would love to see them.

  27. Marie Wright-Pugh

    My husband Allen M. Pugh, who was in the Navy, was on the Hornet recovery team. I have some of his momentos!! I would so very much like to hear if anybody has any info on him. Thank You kindly! Marie Wright-Pugh.

  28. John Piechota

    Many thanks to all who have served our nation that blessed day. I also have my cherished videos from the USS Hornet during the recovery.


  29. Deborah Frerking

    Amazing photography by Mr. Putnam who shared his photos with me some years ago and want to thank him again.

  30. Stephen Bramham

    Thanks for the great photos. I was stationed at Hickam AFB Information Office during both the Apollo 10 and 11 missions. After the MQF was offloaded at Pearl Harbor, they were transported up the Hickam flight line and loaded onto, if memory is correct, a C-141 for the flight back to Houston.
    I was stationed on the roof of the Hickam Base Operations building where I performed real-time radio coverage of the events to 22 radio stations.
    I have tried to find photos of me on the roof but so far no luck. All cameras were focused on the MQF.
    I also can find no audio recordings from any of the radio stations of the coverage.
    Thanks again for the photos and the memories.

  31. Gary McPhee

    I first meet Milt at Walnut Grove SC during a Revolutionary War reenactment. He was living in Asheville at the time. I thought His stories including the times he worked for news papers in Florida were intriguing. He told me of his experience photographing the Apollo 11 splash down. I learned much more after reading this historical account.

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