It was President John Kennedy who set the stage for one of America’s most reluctant heroes. During his too brief time as our nation’s leader in the early 60’s, he challenged us to put a man on the moon. Before the decade was out, Neil Armstrong was that man.
I remember it as a quiet warm summer night. We had moved the television set out on the back porch, I don’t exactly remember why. But I remember it being a clear evening and the moon was visible, so perhaps we thought we could actually see him walking or follow along on television better if we could see where he was. If it was mom’s idea, it completed one heckuva science lesson.
Can’t you remember where you where that evening? Remember the pride you felt. I was about to enter high school in the fall, my little sister must have been 10 or 11, my brother a bit younger. Seemed like to took forever for the moon walk to occur. We had our barbecue and sat in our lawn chairs, waiting for the door for the lunar capsule to open and Neil Armstrong to step onto the surface of the moon. AP said, “Farmers abandoned their nightly milking duties, and motorists pulled off the highway and checked into motels just to see the moonwalk.
It was the biggest thing to happen in my young life. I believe it will go down as one of the major human accomplishments of our country in my lifetime. It embodied two things we desperately need today. A leader who urged us to attain a goal seemingly beyond our reach, and a country full of citizens willing to publicly support that goal.
The whole process to getting to the moon was fraught with adventure (and even death). We knew it was dangerous. But it was cutting edge (before even the phrase was popular) and it made us proud to be Americans. The Cold War was in its final stages, and one of the reasons was our ability to beat the Russians to the moon, along with our determination to make it happen.
I was never a NASA scientist, or a space worker of any kind. But I will always be grateful to a modest Neil Armstrong, a true American hero who was suddenly thrust into history books forever. I visited his museum with a tour group a few years back, and his brother stopped by to talk to us. He explained that Neil didn’t really do public appearances, but shared some stories of their childhood in Wapakoneta, Ohio.
Everyone handles fame in different ways. It strikes me that America’s early astronauts have proven, over time, to be excellent protectors of our history and our integrity, in no small part because of the way they have conducted themselves after they came into the public spotlight. That point shines through in the request the Armstrong family made to Americans:
“For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”
Amen. God speed Neil Armstrong, American Hero.