I remember the occasion vividly. Which, considering I was 5, is rather unusual.
We were visiting my Uncle Ron and Aunt Pat and our cousins near Philadelphia, and the whole crowd of younger kids had been sent to bed. But we had been awakened and gathered in the living room in front of the gigantic television that Uncle Ron had, which to me was a big deal. It was almost 9, I think, and I know it had been dark for a while.
This was important stuff. Astronauts were going to land on the moon. We were shushed, and watched with rapt attention (which, for a bunch of hellions between 4 and 12 was no mean feat!). There, on the screen, were blurry images of a strange light, and of poles and wires, and a sandy surface that seemed to glow. And, we watched Neal Armstrong hop from the ladder onto the surface of another planet. At a time when space travel was all over the news, this was obviously a big deal. Big for us, because Mom and Dad woke us to witness it, big to them, because of what it represented, and big to our country, then in the grips of the Vietnam War and the protests and defiance of the Baby Boomers, and also in a Cold War with the Soviet Union, who until the United States put a man on the moon, could claim with some justification the leading position in the Space Race.
Not surprisingly, the name Neal Armstrong, and the real significance of the Moon Landing by Apollo 11, and all that it symbolized, was lost on a five year old. But that night remains indelibly imprinted in my memory.
Many years later, in 1995, I was home on leave from Camp Lejeune, and surprised my parents with a trip to the movie theater to see the superb motion picture Apollo 13. They thoroughly enjoyed the picture, remembering those times and events, Sputnik, John Glenn, the tragic fire that killed White, and Grissom, and Chaffee, and the landing on the moon. My mother put it best, when she talked about how much it meant, particularly to my father, who was a mechanical engineer. She told me how incredible it all was for him, the science and mathematics and engineering behind the feat. Space exploration, talk of trips to Mars or other planets, all of it seemed possible. She reminded me that Dad had been born in 1925, and when he was a child, powered flight was still rare enough in rural central Massachusetts that people would come out of their houses to see an airplane fly over. Yet, amazingly, while Dad was still a young man (at 44, four years younger than I am now), three men in a module atop a Saturn V rocket left Earth’s gravity and landed on another celestial orb.
And, along with my parents, and my brothers and sister, and my aunt and uncle, and my cousins, I got to see it on live broadcast. Forty-three years ago this night.