Neil Armstrong: an icon passing
I have had the opportunity to meet numerous celebrities along the way and have a collection of pictures in my game room. I was often asked “out of this array of actors, sports figures, and politicians, who was your most memorable encounter and picture?” The answer was always very simple “Neil Armstrong”.
There are some interesting people on my wall, a president, a vice president, a bunch of NFL Hall of Famers and some Hollywood types, but only one of them walked on the moon. Meeting Neil Armstrong was akin to meeting Christopher Columbus or one of the early explorers in the late 1400’s that set out on unknown seas to search for unknown land; not knowing if they would return. At the time, Columbus’s sailing ships were probably as high tech as the Apollo 11 Lunar Module in 1969. We now laugh at the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria and can’t imagine how they made it there and back. People will, in the future, wonder the same thing about our 1969 technology. I have heard that today, many smart phones have more computing power than the Apollo 11 did back then.
If you were older than 5 years old in 1969, you can remember exactly what you were doing that night at 20:17:39 UTC on July 20, 1969. I can remember where I was, whom I was with, what I was wearing and what we were eating! The broken, flashing, staccato, black and white TV images showed Neil stepping on the lunar surface and uttering on of the most famous sound bites ever; “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” Armstrong had decided on this statement following a train of thought that he had had after launch and during the hours after landing. The broadcast did not have the “a” before “man”, rendering the phrase a contraindication (as man in such use is synonymous with mankind). NASA and Armstrong insisted for years that static had obscured the “a”, with Armstrong stating he would never make such a mistake, but after repeated listenings to recordings, Armstrong admitted he must have dropped the “a”. Armstrong later said he “would hope that history would grant me leeway for dropping the syllable and understand that it was certainly intended, even if it was not said — although it might actually have been”.
Yes, this was an important event for mankind in terms of exploration, but for many of us, it was much more. It represented our superiority in the Cold War moon race with the USSR. It brought hope and pride to a generation that was still mourning the assassination of President John F. Kennedy six years earlier. It also provided some positive headlines for a country stuck in the horrible Viet Nam War and tumultuous student activity. I had just graduated from high school and was getting ready to go to Kent State University, where some 10 months later 4 students were murdered by the National Guard on May 4th, 1970. Hippies, long hair, the War, Draft numbers , Woodstock; wow lots of stuff going on then. Much of the goings on were confusing and unpleasant, what a great uplift to forget about it all and celebrate Neil Armstrong and our country’s accomplishment.
When I met Neil Armstrong, he was as humble as any common man and was very plain in his mannerisms, dress and conversation. Humility was this trademark and he gave all credit to our country and the Apollo team. He just happened to be the first one out.
Historic events like the moon landing are measured in hundreds of years and it will likely be many more years to come before we rival the advancement in exploration, technology and persistence.
Rest in peace Neil Armstrong.
Joe Niamtu, III DMD
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