Frank Borman: Aviation's Most Daring Executive

By McCollister, John | The Saturday Evening Post, March 1986 | Go to article overview

Frank Borman: Aviation's Most Daring Executive


McCollister, John, The Saturday Evening Post


FRANK BORMAN: AVIATION'S MOST DARING EXECUTIVE

Col. Frank Borman is smiling more these days. The American hero who charted his way around the moon and through ticker-tape parades back home has more recently run a gantlet of critics concerned he was gambling with the future of one of our nation's largest airlines.

But Borman, as chief executive officer and chairman of the board of Eastern Airlines, has stubbornly insisted that bold chances are sometimes needed in difficult times. So far, he's been right.

Despite corporate worries, Borman looks ten years younger than his actual age of 58. He stands 510 and weighs 168 pounds, the same he weighed as an active fighter pilot--a career nearly cut short by an error in judgment.

As a youngster in Gary, Indiana, Borman wanted two things: to fly and to attend West Point. He did both, but after graduation he caught a cold on his way to Korea; before it was cured, he made the mistake of flying a fighter jet. The result was a damaged eardrum. He was grounded.

While the ear healed, Borman earned a master's degree in aeronautical engineering from the California Institute of Technology. Later cleared for flight, he became a top-notch flight instructor. In 1962 he was selected as an astronaut; he served as the commander of the Gemini 7 mission in 1965; and three years later he accepted the role as the commander of Apollo 8.

Borman endeared himself to America during the 1968 Apollo 8 voyage. Most of us can recall that Christmas Eve when he, James Lovell, and Bill Anders became the first humans to circle the moon, and the emotional stirring in our hearts when they gave the world their "Christmas present' --a reading of the story of the Creation from Genesis 1:1-10.

"Sy Bourgin of the State Department gave us the idea,' Borman says. "Six weeks before the flight we were told by Julian Sheer of NASA that we would "have a show' on Christmas Eve, and that we would speak to the largest audience in history. We decided that whatever we would say must be significant and reflect the spirit of America. Based on everyone's reaction, I guess we made a pretty good choice.

"Can you imagine,' Borman asks, "what the Russians would have said at a time like this? They probably would have bombarded us with a dose of party-written propaganda about Leninism or Communism. What we gave was a statement as to what America is all about. That's one of the reasons I feel lucky to be living in this country.'

Some say Frank Borman's life has been heaped to overflowing with luck. John "Shorty' Powers, the "voice of Mercury control,' realized, however, that Borman's success was due to something more. Powers once told a friend: "There was always one guy who you knew was nine steps ahead of the others, and that was Frank Borman.'

Borman retired from NASA in 1970 and joined Eastern as a consultant. The fee was minimal--about $5,000, as he recalls. At the same time, he served as the liaison man with the White House for the Apollo 11 mission--the first lunar landing. He even helped with the wording of the plaque placed on the moon.

In July 1970, President Nixon, through Bob Haldeman, offered Borman a job at the White House.

"What would I be doing?' Borman wanted to know.

"It would be a position of responsibility at the White House,' Haldeman assured him.

That was too vague an answer for Borman.

"It would involve input into policy,' Haldeman explained.

Still too vague, thought Borman. He politely refused. "Once I made up my mind, I had no regrets turning away from the prospect of becoming a White House official,' he says, "although I sincerely admired President Nixon.'

Borman's decision allowed him to accept an offer to be an Eastern Airlines vice president. "I wanted to sink my teeth into aviation, which I knew something about,' he says. "I considered a lot of offers, and some of them would have made me far better off financially. …

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