USS Essex, CVS-9, the Designated Primary Recovery Ship for the Apollo 204 Mission, Later Renamed the Apollo 1 Mission; Ship's Cover Cancelled the Day After the Tragic Fire that Claimed the Lives of the Crew, Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. Steve Durst SU 4379
Space Cover #71, USS Essex Ship Covers for the Apollo 1 Fire Tragedy
USS Essex, CVS-9, Morris Beck Printed Cachet Cover, for Recovery of the Apollo 205 Mission, Apollo 7, but with the Apollo 204 Beck Cachet, in Memory of the Crew Members Who Lost Their Lives in the Apollo Fire. This Rare USS Essex Recovery Ship's Cover is Shown Courtesy of the Space Unit's Eddie Bizub (ex Richard Learn collection).
At ChicagoPex 2010 in Oak Brook, Illinois, held only two weeks ago, an unusual ship's cover was found for the USS Essex, CVS-9, the ship that would have been the primary recovery ship for the recovery of the first manned Apollo flight, Apollo 204. The cover is unusual in that a ship's cover was known for the Apollo 7 recovery, October 22, 1968, paying homage to the crew lost in the Apollo 1 fire, but this cover just found was quite different. It was postmarked the day after the tragic oxygen fed conflagration at Launch Complex-34, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, that claimed the lives of the prime crew, Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. The crew was the crew that would have made the USA's first manned Apollo space flight. This newly found USS Essex cover is pictured at the top of the page with a ship's rubber-stamped cachet and a black memorial border in memory of the lost crew.
Previous to this, a USS Essex Beck printed cachet cover was known for the successful recovery by the ship of the Apollo 7 crew, the backup crew that replaced Grissom, White, and Chaffee in the flight rotation. This rare cover has an Apollo 1 Beck printed cachet instead of the normal Apollo 7 Beck cachet. The second cover at the top of the page is from the collection of Richard Learn and now owned by Eddie Bizub is highly sought by ship and space cover collectors and is an extremely difficult and very desirable cover to find.
So, an important cover surfaces forty-three years after this deadly Apollo 1 fire that claimed the lives of this beloved crew and destroyed the operational Apollo 204 spacecraft. The flight of Apollo 1 would have set America's course to fulfill President Kennedy's goal of "...landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth." Ironically, the cover discovered from the USS Essex, the ship that would have recovered the crew, was found in Oak Brook, Illinois, in the greater Chicagoland area, and appropriately cancelled on the day after the fire that claimed their lives.
A memorial plaque later was posted at LC-34 and dedicated to the living memory of the lost crew of Apollo 1, Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. The plaque reads as follows, "They gave their lives in service to their country in the ongoing exploration of humankind's final frontier. Remember them not for how they died but for those ideals for which they lived." The USS Essex ship's cover found at ChicagoPex only two weeks ago and cancelled the day after the deaths of the crew in this tragic fire is a fitting memorial to their memory and gives homage to this capable crew taken before their time.
Since returning from ChicagoPex, the author was surprised to find that a second cover was in the same glassine envelope as the cover pictured at the top of this article. If there are two Apollo 1 memorial covers from USS Essex, the designated primary recovery ship, are there more?