Clemmons, 82, died Sunday after a long battle with lung cancer.
Clemmons was a mechanical technician with
"He was present for a lot of the early launches, too," said
On the evening of
The crew and technicians were running a simulation of liftoff, Clemmons later told an interviewer for www.Space.com. Astronauts
"There was a slight pause. We could hear some cross chatter in the blockhouse," Clemmons told the website. "Then we heard, 'We have a fire in here, get us out!' ... It was followed by, 'There's a fire in here,' then a few seconds later, we heard a piercing scream and then silence."
"All hell broke loose," Clemmons recalled, as thick black smoke began to fill the control rooms. Clemmons joined other crew members in the "white room," which had access to the spacecraft, to try to save the astronauts.
"They didn't have any type of firefighting equipment, or gas masks and were wearing clean-room nylon gloves which by now had melted and were discarded," he said,
Clemmons and the others took turns grabbing gulps of air, then rushing into the
"I yelled for anyone to answer, just hoping that someone had survived," Clemmons said, "but it was just silence, just the crackling noise of cooling aluminum and a gentle squeal of oxygen coming from where the ECU (environmental control unit) had been."
Grissom, White and Chaffee were killed. The fire -- apparently sparked by faulty wiring in the pure oxygen -- set the Apollo moon program back more than a year.
Procedures were reviewed, new safety measures added and crews retrained, Clemmons said.
"I've often said that they re-invented the wheel, but in this case a new moon program," he told www.Space.com. "Under the threat of having the program cancelled by
An airman in the
Clemmons was awarded a NASA Medal for Bravery for his actions on the night of
In later years, Clemmons retired to
Survivors include his wife of 28 years,
Services will be held at
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