Prayer luncheon guest speaker recalls wonder of space

Retired Brig. Gen. Charles Duke Jr. speaks at the Air Force Academy's National Prayer Luncheon Feb. 9, 2009, at the Academy's Falcon Club. General Duke, a former astronaut who walked on the Moon's surface, spoke about "America's Godly Heritage" to an audience of about 500. (U.S. Air Force photo/Bill Evans)

Retired Brig. Gen. Charles Duke Jr. speaks at the Air Force Academy's National Prayer Luncheon Feb. 9, 2009, at the Academy's Falcon Club. General Duke, a former astronaut who walked on the Moon's surface, spoke about "America's Godly Heritage" to an audience of about 500. (U.S. Air Force photo/Bill Evans)

Retired Brig. Gen. Charles Duke Jr., right, poses for a photo with John Eck at the Air Force Academy's National Prayer Luncheon Feb. 9, 2010. General Duke, a former astronaut who walked on the Moon's surface, was the luncheon's guest speaker. Mr. Eck is a survivor of the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. (U.S. Air Force photo/Bill Evans)

Retired Brig. Gen. Charles Duke Jr., right, poses for a photo with John Eck at the Air Force Academy's National Prayer Luncheon Feb. 9, 2010. General Duke, a former astronaut who walked on the Moon's surface, was the luncheon's guest speaker. Mr. Eck is a survivor of the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. (U.S. Air Force photo/Bill Evans)

Astronaut and retired Brig. Gen Charles Duke was the guest speaker for the Air Force Academy's National Prayer Luncheon Feb 9, 2010. General Duke was the lunar module pilot for the Apollo 16 mission and the 10th man to walk on the Moon, as well as the youngest. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Mike Kaplan)

Astronaut and retired Brig. Gen Charles Duke was the guest speaker for the Air Force Academy's National Prayer Luncheon Feb 9, 2010. General Duke was the lunar module pilot for the Apollo 16 mission and the 10th man to walk on the Moon, as well as the youngest. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Mike Kaplan)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- When astronaut and retired Brig. Gen. Charles Duke Jr. was growing up, the United States had no space program, but he knew he wanted to serve his country. Little did he know he would one day be the 10th man to walk on the moon.

The North Carolina native spoke about "America's Godly Heritage" to an audience of about 500 people at the Falcon Club here Feb. 9 as the Academy's National Prayer Luncheon's guest speaker.

Other honored guests at the Academy Chapel-sponsored event included leaders from military, government and community organizations, as well as Pearl Harbor survivor John Eck and his wife, Ruth.

General Duke spent four days traveling to the Moon aboard the Apollo 16 lunar module in 1972 and spent 72 hours on the Moon's surface as part of the first scientific expedition to inspect, survey and sample minerals and surface features in the Descartes Region of the lunar highlands.

"It was a fantastic experience," the 29-year Air Force veteran said. "We were overcome with the wonder and beauty on being on the moon's surface. That vivid memory of looking into jet black sky is still with me."

The general joked to the crowd of about 500 about the complexity of space travel versus Air Force travel paperwork.

"A trip to the moon is a TDY," or temporary duty assignment, he said. At the time, Air Force travel was reimbursed at $25 per day, which would have accumulated to a total of $275 for the seven-day trip. However, because the Air Force deemed that the government had paid for meals and lodging, NASA cut him a check for only $13.75.

With the Air Force Academy still in the blueprint stage, General Duke entered the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., to begin his military career. He transferred to the Air Force after graduation upon being told by a flight surgeon that he was physically unfit for Navy flying, "but the Air Force will take you."

The grandfather of nine grandchildren said he wasn't looking for the ensuing fame he received for the moon mission. After the mission was over, and with his 55-pound space suit ensconced in the Smithsonian Institution, he and his wife felt somewhat of a letdown, so they sought to redirect their energy and spirit toward God.

"(Faith) has given us a love for all people," the president of Duke Ministry for Christ said. "There is power in prayer. When you pray, you never get a busy signal."

General Duke also focused on the country's religious heritage and how it is present today.

"From the beginning, we were a Godly nation. We were conceived as a religious nation with freedom of religion but not free from God," he said.

He cited the Mayflower Compact written in the 1600s with references to God, the Declaration of Independence with "certain inalienable rights by our Creator," the Pledge of Allegiance with reference to "one nation under God" and the inscription "In God we Trust" on U.S. coins. He added that founding fathers George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison attended worship services in the quarters of the House of Representatives and received Communion in the Supreme Court and Treasury.

General Duke also noted references to God inscribed in such Washington, D. C., institutions as the Supreme Court.

"We are a nation to worship as we see fit, and we should live as we are called to live," he said.