Carl Heinz Mandel, A Vintage Vignette

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Carl Heinz Mandel, A Vintage Vignette
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
June 7, 2009

Those who have read the Vintage Vignettes that I have contributed to the Times since early 2007 probably realize that my stories are almost exclusively centered in the 1800s. However, on special occasions for particular subjects, I do research more contemporary family history. One such example is that of Carl Heinz Mandel. I was recently asked if I knew where in Madison that Carl had resided. Actually, I could not recall ever hearing of Carl Mandel, but he was part of the von Braun rocket team from Germany. Since as a young engineer I played a small part in the Apollo V project (plus other Apollo hardware), I may have met Carl during my early career and during his latter years of working at NASA. My interest was piqued, so I began to look into what could be learned from the public records.

Of course, the census records for his years here are not accessible, as no enumeration after 1930 is open to the public as yet. I knew that the von Braun rocket team was relocated to Huntsville from the Fort Bliss area of Texas in 1950, so Carl would not have been enumerated in America before that time. However, one roster that I found of the “Project Paperclip” team of 118 rocket scientists that were brought from Germany at the close of World War 2 lists his name as Karl-Helmut Mandel. However, other records consistently provide the name as Carl Heinz Mandel. Searching for that name on Google produced a number of “hits”, but very few with much significant information. On-line sources did state that Carl was born November 22, 1908, and that he died in Madison, Alabama, but no date of death was given.

Carl’s death date was found in the Alabama Death Index, which provided the date of June 30, 1974, for his passing. A quick check of 1974 newspaper obituaries found a notice in the July 1 issue of the Huntsville Times. That article stated that he died on a Sunday at Huntsville Hospital. His funeral was the following Tuesday at St. Marks Lutheran Church. Burial was in Memory Gardens, with Laughlin-Service Funeral Home in charge. The obituary further stated, “Mr. Mandel, 65, of Rt. 2, Madison, received a bachelors degree in electronic engineering at the Gauss Schule at Berlin and came to the U.S. with Von Braun in 1945.”

“Participating in all the major Army missile projects at the Army Ballistic Agency at Huntsville, Mr. Mandel then transferred in 1960 to the Marshall Space Flight Center as chief of the gyro and stabilizer division in the astrionics laboratory. He retired from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in 1973. For his engineering achievements, Mr. Mandel received NASA’s exceptional service medal.”

“Survivors include his wife, Mrs. Gertrude L. Mandel, Madison; two sons, Peter H. Krome, Mobile; Henning O. Krome, Union City, Tenn.; two daughters, Mrs. Eva Marie Virgin, Union City, Tenn.; Mrs. Regina Williams, Knoxville, Tenn.; a brother, Heinz Carl Mandel, Berlin; and six grandchildren.”

Why Carl’s two sons had the surname of Krome is not known, just as it is different from America’s customs that Carl’s brother had the same given names in reverse order. Another oddity is that his retirement from NASA was noted in the obituary as 1973, but the 1965 Huntsville City Directory gave Carl’s occupation as Chief, Brown Engineering, residing in Monrovia. That residence location was also specified in the 1961 directory. The 1959, 1960, 1962, and 1963 Directories stated that Carl’s residence was in Madison, with the 1960 issue including Rural Delivery (Route) 2. A check of Madison County land records showed that Carl purchased only one acre in this county. That parcel falls within the bounds of Mt. Zion Road, Nance Road, and Spano Road of Monrovia. Carl’s widow Gertrude, listed at Route 2, Box 319, Madison, died in Union City, Tennessee on October 1, 1974, three months after Carl’s passing. From his position in the von Braun team at NASA, it is obvious that Carl played a significant role in our reach for the moon, but as time has passed, few know today of his name and fame.

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