Time Capsule: The Write Stuff
6/1/2000
The first American in orbit - and the oldest man in space - reflects on why he decided to turn piles of memories into a memoir.

It was a sin to throw anything away. That lesson, practiced by my parents and drummed into my head during the Depression, produced over the years an accumulation of artifacts, mementos, records, files and documents. There were the minutes of the club that friends and I formed when we were boys, the script of my senior class play with my part underlined, old ticket stubs and menus, programs and souvenir brochures, laboriously typed school and college reports and photographs, lots and lots of photographs. My marriage to Annie brought more memorabilia, and when I went away to World War II, and later to Korea, letters, orders and many more photographs took their places in the mix. By then we had our children, Dave and Lyn, so there were still more letters, photographs and records, as well as souvenirs of war and remembrances from overseas. I hung up my uniforms and flight suits and they joined the array. Flying as a test pilot added a sprinkle of newspaper clippings to the collection. Project Mercury turned the sprinkle into a flood; now there were letters, paintings, plaques, medallions, voluminous training and debriefing records and still more photographs. Years in the US Senate added their share.

It was a great pile of stuff, and it grew and spread from attic to attic and garage to garage, and finally sprawled over the better part of an entire floor of our house outside Washington, DC.