By: Gabe Thornton
On October 2nd our group visited Beckley, West Virginia to visit the coal mine museum. It was a delightful exhibition of an early coal mine and thoroughly educational. The previous night we had talked in our group debrief about how the movie October Sky would be a very applicable movie to watch on this portion of service. It just so happened that they were selling copies of October Sky in the gift shop of the museum. We purchased the movie and watched it that night. The nature of our group seems to be that we appear at just the right moments in the communities we visit to get the most out of our experience there. The next day, October 3rd, happened to be the October Sky Festival right there in Beckley. Homer Hickam and the rest of the rocket boys, whose story we had just watched, were going to be present at the very museum we were at that day. Those of us who wanted to attend got in the van the next day and drove back to Beckley. It was a cloudy and dreary day but there was a fairly large crowd gathered to watch the 5k and 10k, meet the rocket boys, and set off model rockets. The occasion was all rather informal and relaxed which I genuinely appreciated having been used to mass crowds collecting at events such as these back home. Homer was a kind man who was eager to learn about our group and the work we had been doing all week as he signed our copies of his book. We chatted for a while with Homer before heading to the Chic-fil-a catering tent. Chic-fil-a was a nice memory of home after being gone so long. While eating our nostalgic treat in rocking chairs on the porch of the museum, we were approached by an elderly gentleman. He asked us how we were and eventually stated that he was O’Dell the rocket boy. We chuckled and stated how pleased we all were to meet him. He, as well as another member of the honored guests named Billy, stuck around and chatted with us about our week and what we wanted to do in college for a long while. Eventually our conversation was cut off by the announcer stating that they were needed at the launch pads in the parking lot to begin setting off rockets. Everyone attending the festival gathered and cheered as the first of a few failed wet fuses finally allowed a rocket to launch. It soared hundreds of feet into the air, just like the first successful test in the movie. I couldn’t help but feel pleased with our groups timing to have the opportunity to meet such inspiring men by random chance on our journey. One day’s change in plans could’ve prevented this memory that I’ll hold with me the rest of my life.