Buzz Aldrin Honored At Texas A&M-RELLIS
As a 22-year-old second lieutenant in 1952, Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. used to buzz over the post oaks of the Brazos River Valley while training to be a fighter pilot at Bryan Air Force Base.
Nicknamed “Buzz,” Aldrin went on to fly 66 combat missions during the Korean War, shooting down two enemy MIG-15 fighters. He returned to the Bryan base in 1954 as a pilot instructor before becoming a worldwide hero in 1969 for flying to the moon and returning safely.
On Friday, Aldrin — who legally changed his first name to Buzz in 1988 — returned to the location where he trained and taught, which is now the innovative research, development and education campus known as Texas A&M-RELLIS.
Aldrin witnessed the unveiling of a bronze statue in his honor: an eight-and-one-half-foot likeness of the young fighter pilot and a depiction of the Apollo 11 flight path that he flew with Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins.
“This is a meaningful day for me, and one I will never forget,” Aldrin told the crowd of 200 well-wishers outside on a rainy afternoon.
Age 93 and recovering from pneumonia, Aldrin asked a longtime friend to finish his remarks.
The statue “represents all those who climbed into a cockpit to do battle and those who were at home praying for them,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Robert Charles, speaking for Aldrin. “It represents those who fly for this country and rise to defend freedom against whatever and whoever threatens us.”
John Sharp, chancellor of The Texas A&M University System, described Aldrin as a “courageous patriot” and “genuine hero.”
Sharp recalled Aldrin’s touch of humor when Mission Control told the Apollo 11 landing craft, the Eagle, that it was cleared for liftoff from the lunar surface.
“Roger, understand,” Aldrin quipped at the time. “We’re number one on the runway.”
Sharp told Aldrin: “You are number one on America’s runway, a man of courage and passion, a living testament to what is possible when this nation aims high for all mankind.”
Vivek Lall, chief executive of General Atomics Global Corporation, described his longtime friend as “a true galactic pioneer who has inspired generations of people all around the world.”
Lall applauded Aldrin for his lengthy career in the Air Force, NASA and private industry and his advocacy for further space exploration, especially a human mission to Mars.
Lall also thanked Texas A&M, a Space Grant university since 1989, for its role with NASA “in the revival of space exploration and applied cutting-edge science.”
Sharp noted that the Texas A&M System “just lifted off on a new quarter-billion-dollar initiative to create the Texas A&M Space Institute and build an R&D facility next to the Johnson Space Center.”
“It will help cement Texas’s role as the leader in the new space exploration economy for generations,” Sharp said.
The statue of Aldrin was sculpted by Navasota artist J. Payne Lara and stands along Avenue D in front of the newly renovated RELLIS Chapel.
Kelly Templin, director of Texas A&M-RELLIS, emceed the ceremony. He said the statue is part of an effort to “honor our larger history” on the campus. He noted Aldrin was one of five future astronauts who had trained at the Byran Air Force Base.
Three of the others died in accidents while preparing for space exploration. One of them was Gus Grissom, a close friend of Aldrin’s who perished on the launch pad during a pre-flight test of Apollo 1.
“We cannot forget the incredible dangers these astronauts faced,” Templin said.
In Aldrin’s remarks, he described himself as not nostalgic, but as always looking ahead even at the age of 93.
Before giving the microphone to his friend, Aldrin applauded the start of U.S. Space Force and quipped to the crowd, “I’m awaiting my invitation.”