Saturday, August 25, 2012

That Summer of 1969

     I was born in 1964. My earliest memory of my dad being awe inspired was watching him watch a Gemini Space launch on the TV in late 1966. Dad was a know-it-all, and he went to great lengths not to be impressed. I watched him hold his breath as the rocket cleared the launch tower. I knew this was a big deal.
By 1968 my parents divorced, and I lived with my grandparents in Carmel, CA. My grandfather had been a science teacher after graduating college in 1910. The space program had his full attention. We had plastic Revell models of the Apollo command module, and the lunar lander which we built. By the summer of 1969 my brother, and my grandfather were as up-to-speed on the moon shot as any American could have been.

     My grandfather would often sit back in his chair rubbing his bald head as he marveled at the progress mankind had made since his birth in 1891. He has seen the first automobiles on a railroad flat-car rolling through his hometown of Green City, MO. He had flown on a Wright-Flyer. His father’s general store was the first place in town to have a telephone, and the whole town would come to use it. He saw radio born and die. He saw his first movie in 1909, it cost a nickel, and there was no sound. He would later see the first “talkies”, then see movies in color, and finally buy a television so he could watch those movies in his living room.

     Now his black & white television was going to show him two men walk on the moon.  He rousted us from bed at five in the morning so we wouldn’t miss the launch. It was important to him that we saw the launch, and took in as much of the event we could. He kept saying things would never be the same if we landed on the moon. I sat with my brother on the floor wearing my pajamas with the feet on them. The Saturn V rocket rumbled on the screen as it lifted off. Frank McGee’s voice narrated the whole thing. Once they were in orbit we all relaxed.

     The three day flight was filled with updates here and there which we never missed.  The landing was surreal. My four year-old brain was overwhelmed by emotions, and input as the cardboard image of the lander stopped on the moon. Then the fuzzy image of Neil Armstrong on the TV climbing down the ladder, and then his famous words. It was late at night on the California coast. When the broadcast ended we all went outside to look up at the full moon. For the first time in human history there was someone in the moon looking back at us. The mission continued to the splash-down without a hitch. We watched it all as a family.

     Today Neil Armstrong passed away. I admired him for the things he never did as much as for his Apollo & Gemini flights. He never cashed in in his fame. He could have been everywhere. He could have been insanely wealthy just for being the first man to walk on the moon. Armstrong embodied dignity. He was there for NASA when they would ask, but he never took the spotlight away from what the agency was doing in the present. In so many ways Neil Armstrong was the guy the world thinks of when they define what an American is. Neil was always quick to remind everyone about all the people who worked on the Apollo project, and they deserved more credit for their work because they’d made it so easy to do his.
In today’s world of reality show douche baggery, millionaires who are good with a ball who are assholes, and politicians who will throw their own children into a bonfire to win Neil Armstrong stands in the minority we once called  MEN. The country has lost a treasure today.