Neil Armstrong: Humble Hero

From Gene Seymour:

What were you doing when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon?

But Armstrong, a native of Wapakoneta, Ohio, so steeped in flying that his idea of winding down was piloting gliders in his spare time, wanted exactly none of those options. Having his choice of any possible future after leaving NASA in 1971, he chose to go back to his home state and teach aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati.

It was an unusual, but, by then, hardly surprising move by the laconic commander of Apollo 11, the July 1969 mission that fulfilled President John F. Kennedy’s mandate for an American lunar landing within a decade. Before, during and after that epochal journey, Armstrong came across as something of an enigma to global media anxious to make him the brightest star on Earth.

This was going to be tough. Rather than having the jaunty wit of a Wally Schirra, the affable magnetism of a John Glenn or the flinty swagger of a Chuck Yeager, Neil Armstrong came across as nothing more than the earnest, no-nonsense engineer he actually was. No artifice, no flash, no — well, frankly, no star power to speak of.

Within the fraternity of test pilots, however, Armstrong was among the brightest of stars. Before being chosen in 1962 as one of the “Group II” astronauts — which included Apollo 13 commander James Lovell along with such legends as Frank Borman, Pete Conrad and John Young — Armstrong was one of the elite pilots selected to fly the X-15 rocket plane up to five times the speed of sound and toward the edge of space.

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  • It was an emotional moment for me, as I was eating probably too many of mother’s great chocolate peanut butter crisp bars in the dining room with the television on.

    The Neil Armstrong Museum in Wapakoneta is a wonderful, even though rather smallish museum. Only 45 minutes or so from where I watched him step on the moon with those famous words heard across the world.

  • Armstrong is fascinating. His biographer, James R. Hanson, said: “I think Neil knew that this glorious thing he helped achieve for the country back in the summer of 1969–glorious for the entire planet, really–would inexorably be diminished by the blatant commercialism of the modern world. And I think it’s a nobility of his character that he just would not take part in that” (i.e., if he accepted celebrity status).
    I offered up some thoughts this morning:

  • Rick

    I found it interesting, that due to humility, that he did not think he should sign autographs.

    This brings to mind the comedian Brian Regan’s bit about walking on the moon. He points out that certain people will brag about their accomplishments, but those that walked on the moon can just sit back, and then pull out the ultimate accomplishment card.

  • What were you doing …? As a college student, I was sitting in my parents house, watching the TV and taking pictures of the TV screen. I still have the slides.
    Learned some new things about Apollo 11…that Buzz Aldrin took communion on the moon after landing…that he had a struggle with ‘let down’ and alcohol which he conquered a decade later.
    When the Apollo 15 crew was preparing aboard the ‘Weighless Wonder,” I was a guinea pig spinning in a chair behind them. Barfing weightless is a unique experience.
    picture I took of Worden on the Weightless Wonder aka The Vomit Comet

  • Mike M

    He was my good friend Mike Trude’s uncle so I bought a Chicago Tribune the next day and wrapped it in aluminum foil. Sometime in the 90’s I unwrapped it and allowed my kids to bring it to school. It still remains unwrapped and can be found in my facebook pics.

  • Amos Paul

    “So Jesus stepped right here?” asked Armstrong… ““I have to tell you I am more excited stepping on these stones than I was stepping on the moon.”