He progresses from his life growing up on a mountain farm in the Gum Log section of Union County during the Great Depression to his work on the Solid Rocket Booster and other systems for America's Space Program. To read of the progress of one country lad, Charles Souther, through the various stages of his life to engineering and technical feats for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama is like seeing the unbelievable unfold. But he was there, accepting the challenges along each step of his life of service and achievement.
In talking to Charles Souther on May 12 when I received my autographed copy of his book in the mail, I congratulated him for the achievement of putting his memoirs into print. I anticipate that it will be read with pleasure by many of his contemporaries. He said, in our conversation, that at nearly age 80, he hoped, like Moses, to take up a new career. And that I think he has done as a first-time author. His writing is clear and concise. At the same time he reveals the behind-the- scenes work necessary to accomplishing the space mission.
"Although his work helped him to rub shoulders with some of the great names in space age science, he gives credit to his humble beginnings, his parents, extended family, teachers and associates who taught him a solid work ethic and dogged determination to get the job done. This book is about how he lived, worked, and accepted responsibility." (from the blurb, back cover of his book.)
The first part of the book is about his growing-up years in Union County, Georgia. He was the first-born son of Paul W. Souther and Mabel Mauney Souther of Gum Log. Born February 12, 1929, he was reared during the worst part of the Great Depression years. His twin brothers, Suell and Buell, were born six years after him. His memories of growing up on the farm and how the family "made do" comprise a good account of the 1930s and 1940s. His father had many tales to tell his boys about his own years in the West when his parents went to Colorado between the years of 1912-1918 from their farm in Choestoe to try to make a better living. Some of these stories are included in the narrative, with the author's comment, "I grew up on tales from the west."
Charles Souther's education in Union County consisted of being taught by his mother, a country school teacher, and other teachers, mainly at Ebenezer Elementary School. He graduated from Union County High School with the class of 1947. Following high school came his stint in the US Army from September, 1948 through September, 1951. He recounts experiences in Ranger Creek Camp at Mt. Rainier, Washington and in Alaska, with temperatures at times unbelievably cold.
After his discharge from the Army Rangers, he remained at home in Gum Log for a short period and then sought employment at the Navy Yard in South Carolina. It was there he began studies in the Electronics Apprentice School at the Charleston Naval Shipyard from 1952-1956. He met Mary Christina Hill of Berkeley County, SC, and they were married September 7, 1952. To this union were born two daughters, Nancy Gail and Shirley Jane.
Mr. Souther tells how he read an article written by the noted German scientist Werhner von Braun in which he proposed the development of a space station that would orbit the earth and of sending men to the moon. "The von Braun article along with other meager information I had on space travel at the time captured my imagination." (p. 121)
Souther made application for a job at the Redstone Arsenal at Huntsville, Alabama in 1956. He was hired in the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) in late 1956 where General John B. Medaris was Commander and Wernher von Braun was Director of Technical Operations. In the Electrical Equipment Section of the Guidance and Control Laboratory this "mountain lad" began his space age career. And as the saying goes, "The rest is history…"
Souther tells his story with humility and sometimes with awe. To have been a part of the engineering crew that designed and implemented cable design networks for the Saturn Rockets, the Lunar Modules, Apollo, Skylab and other space projects was a dream come true. In 1965 he was transferred to the Logistics and Support Section, Electrical Division. There his responsibilities included design and testing of even more complicated subsystems. This section of his book, and his part in implementing these systems, is a very important account of space history and accomplishment. He received numerous awards in recognition of his service.
I was honored that author Charles H. Souther entrusted me with the responsibility of reading his manuscript, making suggestions, assisting with format and writing the introduction for his book published by Morris Publishing Company, Kearney, Nebraska in 2008. Watch for book signings as soon as these can be arranged. Charles is also open for talking to civic and other groups about his work in the space program.
The book sells for $17.50, with $3.50 shipping and handling. and may be procured at Souther Book Order, 194 Travis Road, NW, Huntsville, AL 35806-1562. Phone 256-830- 2654.
I end my introduction to his book with these words: "Charles H. Souther has written a book that in places is hilarious, but mostly it is serious, a time of one man's life and contributions to our great American dream. From a dirt farm to the laboratories of rocket boosters and space shuttle construction, with significant encounters in between, the author was there, observing, working, thinking, revising, reworking. This book is a true account of a person who, despite humble beginnings, set goals and worked to achieve them. In America, this is every person's privilege and prerogative."
c 2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published May 15, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.