In Memory of My Father
By Bonnie jennings
Emmette Eckles Jennings known as “Jim Jennings,” Sr engineer at Thiokol Chemical Corporation and also known as Morton Thiokol, was my father. He designed part of The Nike Hercules. He also designed bombs used in The Vietnamese War. The sins of the father shall be passed down for seven generations.
We didn’t have a store bought TV in our home because he made or TVs. We were not allowed to listen to regular music unless he wasn’t there, in the house he built, because he only listened to classical music. When we lived in San Francisco, when I was two, he played a French Horn for The Menlo Park Symphony. It later became The San Francisco Symphony.
Mother, Babe, in the last picture below always said, “you know they (daddy’s family) said he had a little autism.” Perhaps he had a little Asperger’s, and that is my assumption based on being a psychiatric nurse of 16 years.
This story is about him, about me and about people who work for our beloved government. My son, Joel, carried on that role and went on to work for AmeriCorps, Homeland Security and The State Department. Daddy worked for The USA Corps of Engineers.
Daddy served in WWII in The Air-Force as a navigator. He was stationed in Italy, and Russia. He was shot down and survived that mission. And, on that flight he was the captain of the aircraft. He gave up piloting. It frightened him. Daddy was not a fretful person. Never scared, accept one other time in his life, and I will tell you about that later.
The two beautiful women in the center are his loving daughters Bonnie and Carol, the third one, Linda, disappeared (1967 or before) to join some other government group. She spoke 5 languages and danced for The Ballet Folk Lorica in Mexico City. And that was the last we heard of her until my mother died 2011. Linda called the attorney, got her inheritance by wire, and disappeared again. I wouldn’t recognize her on the streets if I stood next to her. I was fourteen the last time that I saw her and I’m all but sixty-five now.
This story is about dysfunction, service, dedication, strife and love.
This Is The Beginning.
The year I was born was 1952, so the calculations of time and year are based on my earliest recollections using basic adding and subtractions. So here goes to the best of memory of a six year old through later years.
It was 1959, and for Christmas daddy always gave me the most boyish gifts, but I ended up loving all of them. Once he gave me a metal building of The Empire Building with a working elevator. I put all my plastic beloved farm animals in that elevator and had them go to all the floors. I played for hours with that structure.
One year, 1960, perhaps it was he gave me a telescope. We lived in what was the country on a tar road in Longview, TX. He then, worked for Thiokol. If you recall, earlier i said, daddy was a navigator in WWII and at that time the navigation systems were calculated by men. These men were required to know the constellations and the placement the galaxies around the world whether it was summer or winter solstices or equinoxes. Daddy knew the stars and he taught me well while we star gazed many nights. He pointed out The Seven Sisters, also known as “The Pleiades Star Cluster.” He told the Greek Mythology behind the groups of heavenly bodies. He quoted The Bible. “Can you bind the Pleiades?” I listened for hours to his peaceful lectures about the stars and his charts he used to determine where a bomber was during WWII. He often fell silent after he spoke. He had shrapnel in his legs after being shot down.
“Look Daddy, there’s The Big Dipper!” and he said
“Yes, now follow the tail. It will lead you to The Little dipper.”
So, I watched and learned. Daddy always had high hopes for me. I never achieved them.
Daddy also knew some astrology along with mythology and The Holy Bible. His father was a methodist minister in Pleasant Grove MS or “Duck Hill” as daddy referred to the place. As a child, during the depression, he was taken from his home as his father fell ill, and his mother was a piano teacher and had no money. Daddy moved to California at a young age to live with two of his “old maid aunts” who had money. They provided him with the finest education a poor boy can ever have, though the two of them were unloving to him. So, young daddy felt betrayed, as he was the child who was chosen to be sent away. Ralf and Sarah Bess were allowed to stay in Pleasant Grove.
Here is where we understand, happenstances we hate are the things that are good for us in the long run and are intended for the greatest of our possibilities. He became a mechanical engineer after the war.
The starry nights were the best of times with daddy. I loved his wisdom, his patience in finding galaxies, and telling me his government secrets. Oh, but I was merely six or seven and he could tell me. After all, a child would never remember or have any interest in an adult conflict involving Top Security information. So, he thought.
He was at war with The Blue Book Project. He told me these men (forgot their names) were out to “debunk any knowledge or sightings of UFO’s.”
“Daddy, are there aliens?” I knew what he was referring to. He had given enough description in his story telling that even I a child knew what he was referring to.
“It would be foolish, and egotistical to believe we were the only ones in this vast universe of ours.” Pretty must his exact words.
I knew what he meant. This I too understood. “Daddy, why do these men want to stop knowledge of extraterrestrials?”
“To prevent fear and panic. To let people know they are in charge and no one else.” He was quiet again.
He helped me write a book report on Project Blue Book. I was in the third or fourth grade. My teacher said in front of the class,”how do you know this? Where did you get your information?”
“My father told me.” Right after that, I was sent through a battery of tests to determine if I was “retarded,” a slow thinker. Being different gets people in trouble.
Every night, seven days a week, we ate promptly at 5:30 PM CST USA. Daddy walked in from work Monday through Friday at 5:25PM… Like a clock. There was absolutely no talking while eating at the dinner table. He didn’t allow any conversation. Carol got spanked as she was always in perpetual motion and her mouth went before her. My mother intervened on many occasions when he spanked her for anything coming out of her mouth. She had recovered from Polio and was happy to be alive. Carol was a wee bit frail and tiny. That didn’t stop Jim. NO ONE TALKS! After he ate, he got up and retired to the TV room where he controlled the stations. The nightly news always came first.
My mother was not a rug to wipe any feet on. She also was a college graduate and knew business and current affairs as well as world history. She was a force to be reckoned with and had to be to live with Jim.
I was the quiet one. I hated my mother’s political vigor and her verbal wars she had with anyone who visited us. She read five political books a week and biographies. She knew politics and probably should have gone to law school. She and “Judge Judy” are very much alike.
We didn’t go to church in the early years. Church was The Eighteen Twelve Overture blasting from the stereo that he built. Or maybe Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, or Chopin.
Daddy threw his cards daily to determine if the gods were favorable for him or not. I learned to do the same. He used solitaire to determine the vibrations. I use numbers.
One night, around the time of The Project Blue Book incidence, daddy came home with a stone or piece of iron ore. He gave it to me and I held it in the palm of my seven or so year old hand. It looked like iron ore. It felt like iron ore and it weighed the same. Iron ore is mined in East Texas and it was plentiful. The stone seemed just like all the other matter laying here and there on the firmament.
“Here, look at it,” he said.
So, I did as he said.
“Now watch this.” He took the stone and changed the properties. It was no longer a rock nor a stone, but was a silver/black string about 14” long. He spread his arms apart and the stone unraveled. It looked like any other silver/black string. Then he took his hands and molded back into the stone without any effort. He said, “Now, you do it.”
I did the same with the rock. Daddy gave the stone to me and I played with it for years. My daughter remembers the stone as well. She was about the same age when she played with it. One day the stone disappeared. My father died in 1983 and the rock disappeared. it was no longer in the drawer where the library was and where it remained from 1960 t0 1983. After my mother and father were both deceased, I moved back home to find the rock, the stone. It was of no use. The stone was missing. Something happened to the rock and I have only assumptions to go on. the only witness that I have is my daughter who remembers its strange properties.
Now, when my father gave me the stone it was around 1960- ish. This was just about the time when he was going on and on about the men involved in Project Blue Book. One night while he and I were stargazing, he tells me another story. A story I’ve not forgotten. Why did he tell me? Because he thought a child would never remember. I was a sounding board. I was a person who he could tell with confidence that I was clueless and would never tell nor remember.
He did tell another man. He told his best friend who was silent until I approached him in 2014. He had cancer and could barely speak. We compared stories. They were alike accept for the timing. Number oen, I thought daddy said, the event occurred at 3 Am and Bob said, “No, it was 3 PM.” So the child’s memory who was then sixty-one and his best confident who was close to late seventies and having cancer, had very close identical stories, only Bob told the adult child more than she ever dreamed. Bob is still living and is doing well, by the way. Soon, I want to introduce him to my son, if he will grant us another visit.
Bob was frail at the time of my interview in 2013. I took the recorder on my IPHone 5, that I no longer own, not thinking that it would be traded in one day, I learned to ~ think ahead next time, should I meet Bob again. But, I remember what he said. The cancer had aged him. He didn’t look like the tall handsome man he once was, but the last time I saw Bob was when I was about 16.
He said, “I didn’t like you much. I thought you were a brat.” Bob paused for my response. Perhaps he was apologizing or maybe he was just being frank and had to get it off his chest.
“Yes. Yes, I was a teenage brat. But you must know there are always two sides to every story? Yes?” I spoke gently and so he would know there was truth to my being a “brat.” “My parents were harsh and tough, you know. They were waring between themselves. Daddy was not a communicator and mother was being driven crazy and became hostile and angry. They sent me away to school if you recall?”
“Yea, I remember well. So what brings you here?”
“My father. I want to know what you know about the rock, the incident at the launch pad and I need you to validate that I am not making this up nor am I delusional.”
Bob’s eyes lit up as best they could under his frailness as he laid there smoking one cigarette after another just like my daddy.
“Weil, it was the mid-sixties,” he said.
In my mind I’m thinking, “no,” it was early sixties or 1959. I clarified with Bob my dates.
“He said, “No it was after you all moved to Louisiana. You were a teenager then.”
Holy cow, thinking to myself. “Bob are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m certain. I know because you were away at school and the government came to your house. They went through the place. I’ve never seen your father so scared. He doesn’t scare easily.”
“Bob, you can’t be right because this happened when I was seven, eight or nine. We were living in Longview. I know because daddy told me about being at the launch pad late at night. He said that he was surrounded by brilliant blinking lights of all different illumines colors. Blinking all around him. They split in many directions and made a dancing pattern around he and another man.” He gave me the stone when I was in grade school in Texas.
“Yes,” he said. “The incident that I’m speaking of came later. You were away at bording school. Your father and another man were at the plant in broad daylight. They were working on a platform. Your father had a camera and started taking pictures. He took several and within hours he and the photographer were flown to Washington, DC and debriefed. They (the gov) threatened him and the other guy. They said if you talk, you will be …. “
Bob didn’t say what the…was… but the look in his eyes said it was ominous. “They came to your home and searched the Louisiana residence. They went through everything. Your poor father who was never scared was speechless to everyone, but me.”
I realized that daddy never told me this event. Yes he was indeed silent, but the event where he gave me the stone, I was his confiden that it was around third grade and that made my happening much earlier than Bob’s story. I felt as though I betrayed my father. I wasn’t there to listen, but I have a “big mouth” so maybe it was the best for all of us as I would have had to tell someone despite being told to hush. Being a natural born whistleblower, silence would have been hard for me to deal with. Who knows what I would have said or done.
Bob’s voice was getting weaker. He needed to sleep. I left with the message recorded. I had what I needed and I forwarded it to my sister and children. Now, carol and daddy didn’t have these conversations nor did he talk to my mother about them. So, this was after his death, and I started telling them. It was rather shocking to my family.
My mother fell silent. She did not talk about the MIB visiting them in Shreveport Louisiana. She would say to me, “You talk too much.”
The story will continue. It has to continue. I have to give it a rest now…It is hard to write about.
Daddy had a close encounter of the third or fourth kind while on a missle lauch site ..