When the first Man on the Moon, Neil Armstrong, died on August 25, 2012, I was reminded of that summer in 1969, and my feelings and actions.
I was twelve years old, the youngest child of a couple very much in love, who believed in the American dreams of achievement and boundless opportunity available to those who dare.
I probably had it too easy, with my own room and a stereo on which I blasted the soundtrack to 2001, along with “Snoopy vs the Red Baron.” I was a child of the Sixties in a GOOD way, born in 1956 and growing up with a respect for rules and authority that was NEVER shown as unfounded in my personal life. Even when I disagreed with my parents (over stupid things like my hair length or the Beatles’ White Album), I never doubted, or had cause to doubt, that my parents loved me and placed my upkeep and growth over their own.
As a white-bread American kid, I saw those news reports about a war in Viet Nam through the dislocated point-of-view of a youngster viewing the activities of the adult world from afar. Along with my best friend Tommy Hefner and other neighborhood kids, I played Army and Civil War (we pronounced it “Silver War”) knowing from our own parents’ lives that the good guys would win.
It was with that profoundly optimistic (nowadays some would say hopelessly naïve) view that I watched TV (Walter Cronkite on CBS) on Sunday night, July 20, 1969. There were mostly talking heads and people waving plastic models around in front of a globe of the Moon. There was little in the way of “live” anything -- video or audio -- but there was TONS of excitement and suspense.
The First Step took place July 21, 02:56 UTC -- luckily for me in Oklahoma, that placed it at just before 9PM -- not too late at all for a school night.
Believe it or not, this photo is about as good as it got, as far as the quality of the video image. And you’ve also heard the staticky audio. But that didn’t matter, because this was real, this was NOW, and this was the state of the art in 1969.
When the heroes of Apollo 11 came home, they got some justly deserved parades and acclaims. They were an example of American know-how, courage, and grit. I personally wish that more people could summon up similar pride in America’s achievements nowadays. As adults, I have come to learn that, sadly, the dreams of America -- achievement, self-determination, teamwork, fair play -- are in the hands of none-too-perfect human beings with (sadly personal and petty) goals of their own.
But I still smile in remembered pride at the thoughts of Apollo 11 and its achievements, and I thank Neil Armstrong for carrying the dreams of so many American kids down that ladder.
From Bartlesville, OK, the moon was about one-third full. I looked up and pointed to it and said in pride, “We got you!”
See you next week.