Bullhead City resident Stephen Kanelos talks about his time on the USS Hassayampa AO-145 and how the auxiliary oiler assisted in the Apollo 11 retrieval in 1969.

BULLHEAD CITY — “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” said Neil Armstrong in 1969. That quote is what many people heard 50 years ago when American astronauts Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon while crewmate Michael Collins remained in obit above.

Fifty years later, many people remember it like it was yesterday.

“It was exciting to see and to hear him say one step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” said Tri-state resident Odette Morrison. “It was thrilling to know that man was on the moon.”

“I was 13 years old and I remember that we sat around our giant TV,” said Tri-state resident Karin Hoffman. “It was the first time that we had sat down around our TV because my dad didn’t really like TV but he was interested in the moon landing.”

Apollo 11 mission launched on July 16, 1969, landed on the moon on July 19, departed from the moon on July 21 and returned to earth on July 24. The entire duration of the mission of Apollo 11 was 195 hours, 18 minutes and 21 seconds; of that time, 21 hours, 38 minutes and 21 seconds were spent on the lunar surface.

When Apollo 11 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, there were a lot of moving parts to make sure that the recovery mission was a success.

One of those parts was being able to get fuel to make it to where the astronauts were going to land.

Stephen Kanelos was aboard the USS Hassayampa when they re-fueled the USS Hornet, the retrieval ship. The USS Hassayampa was the auxiliary oiler (AO-145). It is named after a river that runs through Arizona.

Auxiliary oilers serve as floating fuel stations for fleets, providing underway replenishment so the big ships can continue on their missions without having to find a port for fuel.

As a member of the Hassayampa crew, Kanelos saw many parts of the world — mostly from the deck of a ship at sea.

“I was a boatswain’s mate and we were headed to Hawaii but they diverted us to go south of the equator,” said Kanelos, a longtime Bullhead City resident. “They told us that we were going to unwrap (refuel) the Apollo 11 task force. So I can say that I’m a Shellback because we crossed the equator.”

A Shellback is a nickname bestowed on U.S. Navy personnel who have crossed the equator at sea. 

At the time, Kanelos said, he and his crewmates aboard the Hassayampa didn’t think it was that big of a deal.

“It was just another day on the job,” said Kanelos. “When the Apollo 11 astronauts were recovered, we were in American Samoa. However, I am proud that we put a man on the moon and I am proud that I was able to be a part, albeit a small part, of the recovery efforts. I’m kind of disappointed that I wasn’t able to see them come down but that wasn’t our job.”

Most people were able to see the moon landing on their televisions screens. Not Kanelos and his shipmates. They were too busy working and were well away from any media hubs.

“It was a big media event back home but we weren’t back home. We were in American Samoa, so all the media hype wasn’t part of what I experienced,” said Kanelos. “How we found out that the mission had been a success was that it was announced over the public address system and we all high-fived each other.”

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