When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were heading toward a historic moon landing 50 years ago, Austinite Alan Kress was sitting on the USNS Vanguard waiting for something bad to happen. The scientific ship was there to pick up the wreckage if Apollo 11 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean.

Kress, 73, was aboard the ship as a combat photographer and videographer. His job was to document potential wreckage. They told him to "take a picture of the body before anyone touches anything," he says.

Typically, his job would be to produce something on film or on video, but in this case, there was nothing to document.

"When you sit out there waiting for this satellite to crash, you don't see anything," he says. He produced nothing while on the ship. "I didn't get my gear out," he says.

His wife, Dee Kress, refers to this as the time he was on the Navy Yacht because the accommodations and food were rather swanky by Navy standards. "You had your choice of meals," he says. He remembers the roast beef and being given a menu, with choices. "It was entirely different," he says, than the base in Norfolk, Va., where his unit of the Atlantic Fleet Combat Camera Group was stationed, and where Dee Kress was also stationed in the photo lab, which is how they met.

"To me, it was a vacation," Dee Kress says, one she didn't get to go on.

Alan Kress was on the ship for about a week before he headed back to Norfolk.

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Kress, who grew up in Temple, joined the Navy in 1967 because he was about to be drafted. It was during his sophomore year of college at what is now Texas State University, where he was studying photography.

"You got paid really well," he says. They would ask him and the other combat camera operators, "You want to make a movie?"

"Then you would get to together and meet at a bar and make a plan," he says.

That was the good part. The bad part: "You were always on call for them."

He had to have $125 in cash in his wallet at all times to be able to get up and go when the Navy called.

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One of the times he had to get up and go was when there were problems with Apollo 12 that November. It had been struck twice by lightning and lost its power and instrument panels before an engineer figured out which switch to flip to get them back.

Kress had given blood that day and was supposed to have the day off. When Apollo 12 was having problems, the Navy set a potential crash site as Lake Victoria in Tanzania and Uganda, and Kress got the call. He had to grab his gear. The only problem: The Navy doctor couldn't find Kress' shot record.

So, having just given blood, he also got all the shots he might need for Africa and was put on a C-130 transport plane headed to Lake Victoria. It was just him in the back and the crew in the cockpit. He mostly slept.

"I didn't know if I would have to strength to carry the camera gear," he says, because of the shots and the loss of blood.

He was told he would probably have to get a donkey to carry him and the gear up to the crash site because they wouldn't be able to land the plane near it. "It sounded like fun," he says.

Yet, it was a big responsibility. "I would still probably be the only one to take pictures," he says. "When I think about it later, you have nightmares. What if the film doesn't come out?"

He doesn't know how long he was asleep, but at some point the C-130 turned around and headed back to Norfolk because Apollo 12 was going to be OK to go to the moon.

At the time, he wasn't told why they turned around or why Apollo 12 was in danger of crashing.

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Kress' career wasn't all waiting for nothing to happen. He had to learn how to spot enemy ships and radar so if he saw them through his camera lens he could alert the Navy. He sat with his legs outside a helicopter or hung out of a boat to shot video or photos. He shot a lot of training videos and learned to snorkel and shoot underwater video. He went to Portugal to film the Navy laying cable underneath the Mediterranean. He spent a year in Alaska and some time in Florida.

He hasn't really seen any of his photos from that time because he had to turn over everything to the Navy. Kress served for four years and then returned to Texas State to get his degree on the GI Bill. The Navy wanted him to stay and even offered him a Corvette if he would, he says, but he wanted to go home to Texas.

After college, he worked for Texas Instruments and then later founded his own corporate photography business. That was a world away from his time in the Navy.

"So many things I got to do I wouldn't in a suburban life," he says. "I enjoyed all the things I did. It was fun and exciting."