Carl Anderson was witness to history in the making aboard the USS Hornet aircraft carrier 50 years ago.
The Mason City business owner was aboard the U.S. aircraft carrier on July 20, 1969, the day the Apollo 11 command module splashed down in the Pacific Ocean four days after its history-making moon landing.
On that day, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin Jr. became the first humans ever to land on the moon.
Hours later, Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon. As he took his first step, Armstrong famously said, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
The Apollo 11 mission occurred eight years after President John F. Kennedy announced a national goal of landing a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s.
While Anderson wasn't able to watch Apollo 11's reentry and splashdown from the deck of the Hornet, he said he was able to glimpse the TV coverage below decks because all three networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) were broadcasting from aboard the ship.
Anderson said he was too busy remodeling a compartment on the superstructure on the Hornet's deck for President Richard Nixon, who landed on board just hours before the splashdown.
But all that work was for naught, he said.
"We spent a week completely remodeling the suite and he never stepped foot in it," Anderson said from his hotel room in Oakland, California, on Friday. "He only stayed on board for three hours and then he was off to an important meeting in China."
Anderson is in California for the "Splashdown 50 Celebration" aboard the Hornet, which is now a floating museum docked at the former Alameda Naval Air Station.
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While Anderson didn't ever get close to the president, he could tell he was "upbeat" about the Apollo 11 mission and what it meant for the United States in the space race.
"It was a pretty big deal," said Anderson, who graduated from Rockwell High School in 1964 and joined the Navy two years later. "I didn't get to see the splashdown, but I was there when the helicopter carrying the astronauts landed and when the capsule was hoisted onto the flight deck."
Anderson said that while seeing the three astronauts being whisked into the quarantine trailer was amazing, having the President of the United States aboard the USS Hornet was a big deal, too.
The Apollo 11 module splashed down several miles from the Hornet and helicopters were dispatched to pick up the three astronauts, who were brought to the Hornet and placed in a shelter to prevent the potential spread of contamination.
The mechanical engineer who graduated from Iowa State University after his four-year stint in the Navy and is now part-owner of Mechanical Air Systems in Mason City, said he is amazed at the technology it took to complete the Apollo 11 mission.
"I look at it now and it's hard to fathom we had that type of technology 50 years ago," he said. "It was quite awesome. It was a major breakthrough. It took a lot of people to put that all together.
"And it took a lot of courage for the three astronauts to get in that small capsule, be rocketed into space and complete the moon landing. It truly was a step for mankind."
On Saturday, the USS Hornet Sea, Air & Space Museum will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 by honoring some of the people who played pivotal roles behind the scenes, including the U.S. Navy swimmer who was the first person to greet the astronauts upon their return to Earth.
Anderson said it will be an amazing day as he not only will get to re-live some of his most fond memories of that special day, he will be able to talk to some of the men he served with from 1966-70.
"I'll get to tour the ship with some of the guys I worked with 50 years ago," he said. "It will be a big day."