COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Ed Givens can tell you his father’s life story even though he barely got the chance to know him.
“My dad’s father was Native American,” Givens said. “He’s from a small town of 1,000 people, Quanah, Texas.”
It’s hard to ignore the smile on this proud son’s face as he describes his father’s path from small-town Texas to the headquarters of NASA.
“He hitchhiked as a 15-year-old 29 miles to learn to fly and this is in the 1940s when nobody flew,” Givens said.
Major Edward Givens worked as a grocery bagger in high school, his son recalls, using the small balance of his paycheck to pay for those flight lessons.
From there, Givens went to Annapolis and became a fighter pilot, his son said. Then he was selected to become an Apollo Astronaut.
“I think of all of those guys as modern-day Christopher Columbuses,” the younger Ed Givens says, thinking about the members of the Apollo program.
At NASA, Givens the elder served on the support crew for Apollo 1, which caught fire on the launchpad, killing all three crew members on board.
After that Givens joined the support crew for Apollo 7.
“They were all workaholics,” the younger Givens recalls of the members of the Apollo program. “They were under a lot of pressure.”
“President Kennedy had said we’ll put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.”
On a night in 1967, Major Edward Givens was driving two of his colleagues home from a meeting of the Quiet Birdmen, a members-only club of male U.S. aviators established after World War One.
“There was a small ditch out in the field and the car nosed over and he hit his head on the steering wheel and was killed instantly,” Givens said.
Major Edward Givens was 37. His son, Ed, was 2-year-old at the time.
“You’d think after 50 plus years it would get smaller. But the older you get it actually gets bigger. It’s that hole in your life,” he said.
“I never had a dad to play catch with. I never had a dad to pitch baseballs to me or to teach me to fly.”
After Givens death, it didn’t take long for his colleagues to step in to his son’s life.
The Givens family lived in a Houston neighborhood where many in the space program lived.
“Across the street was Doctor Barry who was the NASA Doctor if you will,” Givens remembers. “This way was Neil Armstrong, down the street was Charlie Duke and Jack Lousma,” he said.
“Michael Collins lived around the corner.”
And whenever his mother needed something, Givens remembers his father’s co-workers were right there.
“They going to call and see what you’re doing – they’re going to make sure you’re making the grades,” Givens said.
“It was actually a little scary being a kid because the expectation was set very high.”
Givens remembers men like Charlie Duke and Jack Lousma stopping by the house to check in on the family.
And later in life, they were always there. Givens remembers when he was attending the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, he needed a speaker for an assembly.
“I called Captain Jack Lousma,” he said. Lousma came right out.
“Busy guys,” he said. “Guys that are ambassadors for space would take the time and they would check on me and they would come and see me.”
“My heart is full because of the sacrifice and time they gave me.”
FLYING LIKE DAD
Givens followed in his father’s footsteps into service. After attending the Air Force Academy, he served his country.
After his service, he tried to apply at NASA.
“I needed a masters or PHD in aerodynamics or astrodynamics and (they said) I wasn’t smart enough to talk to their astronauts,” he recalls with a chuckle.
“So they rejected me and I put my tail between my legs and went away quietly,” Givens said laughing.
He chose a career as a commercial pilot, flying for Southwest Airlines. Givens has been with Southwest for 26 years.
Even at Southwest, his Apollo role models came to help.
“I called General Charlie Duke, Apollo 16 astronaut who walked on the moon, and I said General Duke could you come and speak to us and he came and gave a two-hour talk,” Givens said.
Even with the other role models in his life, Givens still wanted to know more about his father. Through the years, he was lucky enough to find letters his father had written to his own parents, which gave him a better picture of who the man he lost really was.
Givens cherished the letters, taking several with him on long work trips
“I’d bring them and read them on the overnight,” Ed recalls. He’d also bring along letters he’d received from the Apollo family through the years.
His father's colleagues, like Lousma and Duke, would write about his father, to give Ed a better understanding of his father’s character.
But several years ago, something terrible happened. On a trip with his wife, Givens stopped at a restaurant leaving his briefcase in the car.
“Somebody had busted the window out on our car and taken the briefcase. It had my eight favorite letters from my dad,” he remembers.
When his father’s friends heard about the theft, they quickly wrote Givens so he would have something new to hold onto and cherish.
“I’d be rudderless without these guys out there helping to guide me and shape me in life. I really owe them a huge debt of gratitude,” he said.
As the anniversary of the moon landing approaches, Givens remains in awe of what his role models were able to accomplish.
“I think of all of those guys as modern-day Christopher Columbuses,” he said. “They did it all through math and it was that next frontier that wasn’t explored and it was the patriotic thing to do.”
He hopes a similar discovery happens soon, to bring the country together.
“It was a huge time of change in America and I think the country almost needs something like that every 50 years,” he said.
And whenever he thinks of the incredible accomplishments, he’ll always pause to remember his father, and the men who dropped everything to help a young boy cope.
“These men, they’re so humble they don’t know how great and courageous they really are,” he said.
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