Fred Haise Jr., Biloxi native son and 1952 Perkinston Junior College graduate, was honored on February 13 with a statue and moonwalk on Highway 90 in Biloxi. In 1970, he became the first recipient of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College Alumni Hall of Fame award.
Haise, who was born November 30, 1933, graduated from Biloxi High School and entered Perkinston Junior College (PJC, now MGCCC) as a freshman in 1950. He became editor of the college newspaper, the Bulldog Barks, because of his work on the Biloxi High School paper and as a part-time reporter for the Biloxi-Gulfport Daily Herald. He seemed destined for a career in journalism until he joined the Navy Air Cadet program after his graduation from PJC. After earning his wings, he took his commission in the United States Marine Corps. Discharged in 1956, he continued to fly for the Oklahoma National Guard while attending the University of Oklahoma. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical engineering in 1959 and became a test pilot for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Chosen as one of 19 new astronauts in 1966, Haise was chosen to crew aboard the Apollo 13 in April 1969. Haise was the lunar module pilot for the near-fatal mission. While the craft suffered an internal explosion while 200,000 nautical miles out in space, the original aim of landing on the moon was forgotten to bring Haise and the two other Apollo 13 astronauts back to earth alive. U.S. President Richard M. Nixon presented the presidential Medal of Freedom to the three upon their return and summed the voyage: “The three astronauts did not reach the moon, but they reached the hearts of millions of people in America and in the world.”
In 1995, a movie directed by Ron Howard was made about the Apollo 13 crew.
Haise went on to spend 15 years helping build INFINITY Science Center in South Mississippi to inspire students to embrace science and technology.
The statue honoring Haise is located just south of the Biloxi lighthouse. It was created by another Biloxi native and MGCCC family member, sculptor Mary Ott Tremmel Davidson. Davidson taught at MGCCC’s Harrison County Campus and was named Instructor of the Year in 2002.
Haise said when children look at the statue, he hopes they know becoming an astronaut took hard work. “You had to have a discipline, you had to have a goal and work toward that goal,” he said. “In my case, quite an exciting life.”