Everyone of a certain age remembers exactly where they were on July 20, 1969. Neil Armstrong's "small step for man and giant leap for mankind" was one of those monumental events that was forever etched into our collective consciousness.
Only a few years before it had been generally thought impossible, but President John F. Kennedy had boldly declared the U.S. would win the race with the Soviet Union to put the first man on the moon "before the end of the decade."
That man was Armstrong, a humble Ohio test pilot who, along with Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, rode Apollo 11 to the moon's orbit. Armstrong, the commander of the flight, and Aldrin took an additional harrowing ride to the moon surface, landing on the edge of the region that had been dubbed "the Sea of Tranquility."
On Saturday, we shared the nation's sadness to learn of the 82-year-old Armstrong's death caused by complications from a heart bypass surgery earlier this month. His passing reminds us all of our own mortality. If one of our most daring heroes can be felled by fatal illness, it can happen to any of us.
Despite his heroic deed, Armstrong was an extremely private man. In fact, historian Douglas Brinkley described him as "our nation's most bashful Galahad." Armstrong's family described him to The New York Times as "a reluctant hero who always believed he was just doing his job."
Doing his job, indeed. And doing it well.
When he and Aldrin
"Roger, Tranquillity," came the reply from mission control. "We copy you on the ground. You've got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot."
Although Armstrong's moonwalk lasted just slightly more than two and quarter hours, it was a triumphant and jubilant event that the nation desperately needed. The Apollo 11 astronauts were welcomed home as conquering heroes, and rightly so. Their bravery and competence stood as the standard of what America can do when it puts its mind to it.
Armstrong gradually disappeared from the public eye and he wanted it that way. He became an associate administrator in the space program, then a university professor and director of a number of corporations.
It is not our wish to intrude upon his family's privacy, but we want to offer our sincere condolences to them. And we want to add our words of praise and thanks to Neil Armstrong for his great service to the country and, of course, to mankind.