There are days in our lives that stand out. Such is July 20, 1969. It was a Sunday like none other in some aspects and in other ways it was as routine as they come.
I was in high school and I had a part-time job cooking chicken for Col. Sanders. It was quite busy that day because everyone was getting their food provisions ready for watching Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the surface of the Moon. Everyone was excited about the event and that was the only topic of conversation. MAN ON THE MOON!!!
I had grown up watching the first space flights of the Mercury 7. My dad would wake my brother and me up so that we could witness history in the making. You could feel the tension as the countdowns reached 10 then 9 and finally blast-off. Television coverage was solidly about the men in space. The first flights were short, then longer, and then longer than a day. The Gemini program put two men in one capsule and finally we were introduced to the Apollo phase of the planned landing on the Moon.
Every kid in America knew the names of the astronauts and they were exalted to say the least. The nation wept when the fire killed Ed White, Roger Chaffee, and Gus Grissom. NASA studied the errors that caused the fire and fixed the problem.
We had endured a tough decade. President Kennedy was assassinated in November of 1963 just a few years after telling this nation and the world that the United States was going to send a man to the Moon and return him safely to Earth before the end of the decade. Bobby Kennedy was killed in June of 1968 a couple of months after the murder of Dr. King.
Racial tensions were high, civil unrest was the name of the game as thousands protested our involvement in southeast Asia. The lunar program united Americans and the world watched as our mathematicians, engineers, scientists, scholars, and everyday folks in many different industries came together to build rockets, computers, cameras, heat shields and a million other items to get those three men to the Sea of Tranquility and home again.
After my KFC shift ended I went home and, when it was time for the Moonwalk, I sat next to my grandmother to watch the grainy images from the surface of the Moon. She shared with us the amazing history she had lived through by telling me that she remembered her father discussing the Wright brother’s flight at Kitty Hawk and now, less than seven decades later, man had landed on the Moon.
Eagle Scout Neil Armstrong would join the list of famous daring explorers. Columbus, Lindberg, and Armstrong. Later that evening, having watched the walk and listened to Walter Cronkite report the event, I looked up at the Moon that seemed different to me. Man had reached out into outer space and succeeded.
That day, a new phrase came into our language when Frank McGee of NBC was doing his reporting on the events of the day and stated that NBC would be going live to the hometown of Neil Armstrong for an interview. The cameras failed, as did the audio and McGee had to finally give up on the interview segment. His line has stayed with me for 50 years, “We can land a man on the Moon but we can’t broadcast from Wapakoneta, Ohio”.
Armstrong’s first eight words from the Moon culminated mankind’s desire to get there. “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”