Yankee Classic: Christa Mcauliffe's Shadow
The morning after the catastrophe, after a night with no sleep, a stretch limousine picked up Hohler to take him to the television show. He struggled through the five-minute interview — like many reporters, he finds being interviewed a harrowing experience — filed his story, and flew back to Concord. The city was in a state of shock and mourning, and the world wanted to hear and read about it. His colleagues on the Monitor were trying to cover the story thoroughly, even as they struggled with their own grief and the conflict between the demands of their profession and their reluctance to intrude on the sorrow of their neighbors.
Hohler felt that conflict most of all. He was suddenly in demand. People wanted to interview him in California, in Germany. He could write stories for almost anyone for a lot of money. He could write a book. He was a celebrity, and he was mixed up.
“I felt some sort of obligation to tell people what I knew about her, who she was, what she meant to people,” he said. “But I felt real uncomfortable about capitalizing on the death of a friend. I said no to a lot of people.”
Still refusing to confront his own tangled emotions, Hohler flew to Houston to write his last Christa column on the memorial service at the Johnson Space Center. It was a way of closing the circle for him. He had met her there, and this would be his chance to say farewell. His instinct for the telling detail did not fail him.
Cymbals crashed, and a bass drum rolled like thunder, but Staff Sgt. Susan Arnold’s silver trumpet went silent yesterday as a nation’s grief grabbed her by the throat.
Her cheeks wet with tears, Arnold stopped in mid-stanza as her 539th Air Force Band played “God Bless America” for the families of the seven men and women who left the Johnson Space Center last week on a journey that ended too soon in the sky above Florida.
“The air was so full of sorrow,” she said, “so full of anguish. I had no music left inside me.”
“It was a very emotional service,” he said on a bright day in February in Concord, where people were trying to live their ordinary lives again. “I saw all the teachers that I met in Houston in the beginning. Seeing the Kennedy kids there brought back the Kennedy assassination. Mike Smith’s daughter with her teddy bear, and the jets flying overhead … I went back to my hotel room to write the story, and on the TV they were playing it again and again. I started sobbing, and it all came out. It was good to let it out. But I’m not ready to stop writing about it.”
He has reconciled himself to writing a book and to the chance that some may accuse him of taking advantage of a friend’s death. He feels good about doing the book for personal reasons, for professional reasons, “and, pompous as it may sound, for historical reasons. Because I was close to it and went through it. I felt thrust into this thing that I never expected to happen. I want to do something sort of inspirational and upbeat.”
If he is criticized for his ambition, so be it. He learned something about ambition from Christa. “She was very ambitious in a personal sort of way. She didn’t want to be a hero — she didn’t need that fame and glory stuff. But personally, when she set out to do something, she was determined to do it the best way she knew how. I think she would have been very disappointed if she hadn’t been chosen. She would have been hurt because she had put so much of herself into it.”