The Hill Country here in Texas has earned national acclaim because, quite frankly, it offers unrivaled natural beauty, plenty of fun ways to enjoy it, and a unique culture you won’t find anywhere else.
While Hunt embodies all of these traits, our community also has its own, bonafide, American heroes. Gerry Griffin is one of them. When the crew of the Apollo 13 mission was facing life-threatening circumstances more than 200,000 miles above the earth, Griffin was part of the Mission Control team responsible for bringing those three astronauts back home.
Looking back on Griffin’s formative years, it’s hard to imagine he would have taken any other path in life. He joined the Boy Scouts at a young age and earned the rank of Eagle Scout at 16. During junior high and high school, Griffin joined the JROTC programs and later the ROTC.
His older brother, Ken, was a big influence on him. He was almost a decade older, so, naturally, Griffin idolized him. At just 19, Ken served in World War II as a pilot, which only furthered his little brother’s interest in the military.
“I Got to Be a Part of That”
In 1952, Griffin enrolled in the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (now Texas A&M University) to study aeronautical engineering. He was a member of the school’s famous Corps of Cadets and upon graduation in 1956 was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Air Force.
He began active duty in 1956 and earned his USAF Navigator Wings the following year. Griffin chose to go into fighter interceptors and became a weapon systems officer in supersonic jets (the flight of which he refers to as, “very smooth”).
His life took another important turn in 1957 when the Soviet’s successfully launched Sputnik.
“This is going to be big – this space thing,” Griffin remembers thinking. “I got to be a part of that.”
“Our Finest Hour in Mission Control”
Little did Griffin know at the time that he would play many critical roles in America’s space program.
He moved to Houston in 1964 at the beginning of Project Gemini and began working for NASA as a flight controller in Mission Control specializing in guidance, navigation, control, and propulsion systems. At the end of Project Gemini, Griffin was chosen to be a Flight Director for the follow-on Apollo Program, a role he would have for all of the manned Apollo missions. In later years, he would become the Director of the Johnson Space Center.
However, it is the events that took place during April 1970 that Gerry Griffin is probably best known for. After a successful launch, the astronauts of Apollo 13 became stranded in space after an oxygen tank exploded.
Many of you probably remember this incident unraveling like it was yesterday. Others have probably seen the Academy Award-winning movie, Apollo 13 for which Griffin served as a technical consultant).
Griffin was actually at Mission Control during the mission, working as a Flight Director with his team to save the lives of the astronauts aboard.
While the rest of us may get sweaty palms just thinking about these circumstances, Griffin tells a very different story.
“We never discussed not getting the crew back. It never came up.”
He credits this focused approach to the intensely realistic training everyone went through prior to these missions.
“We trained so hard, the real missions were almost easier than getting ready for them. I can’t believe how good the simulations were for that era.”
These simulations were designed to create every possible scenario Griffin’s team could possibly face.
“We were trained with the philosophy that as long as you have options, don’t quit.”
During Apollo 13, he says, “We had options and we never ran out of them – although, we almost did at the end.”
Looking back at the historic event, Griffin believes that it was truly, “Our finest hour in mission control.”
Moving to the Hill Country
Griffin credits his discovery of the Texas Hill Country to his wife of almost 60 years, Sandy, who first introduced him to the area.
They bought property in Hunt back in 1988, before actually moving here full-time in 1992 because of its natural beauty and serenity.
Nowadays, Griffin says he, “lives in cyberspace”, working with people all over the world from his home in Hunt.
“The Hunt Store Is the Center of Gravity Here”
That’s high praise coming from a man who knows more about gravity than most.
“If it wasn’t for the store, I’m not sure this place would survive with the “peaceful vitality” it has today.”
We are very proud to call Gerry Griffin a customer and a friend. Aside from being a true American hero, Gerry is also an all around nice guy.