On a summer evening in July of 1969, Neil Armstrong placed his left, then his right foot on the surface of the moon humbly saying, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” Words which will forever be etched in history books and minds of all who heard them across the airwaves. Armstrong was our generations, Christopher Columbus, a true hero, and a man who surprisingly retired and walked into anonymity only two years after his historic flight. He often said in interviews that none of what he did “was about him, that he was only the tip of the arrow”, referencing the 400,000 support personnel making his achievement possible. He heard through the years that some were selling his autographs, causing him to stop giving them because he didn’t want the attention or exploitation of his good name. He even sued a barber once for selling strands of his hair, demanding that the proceeds be given to charity. He was a man who did what he did to give others hope, goals, a sense of pride, achievement, and the realization that anything is possible when people worked together. He could’ve used his moon walk to easily acquire mega riches and celebrity status, riding that golden wave forever. But he didn’t, choosing instead to live as an everyday citizen as much as possible. He wanted his life to stand for something honorable, but not heroic, storing that phenomenal act of 1969 inside a sacred place among his personal memory.
America needs more Neil Armstrong’s; people who do great things not for personal gain, but rather for the benefit of others; people who aren’t obsessed with becoming celebrities, attaining fame, or constantly spending their time looking for notoriety. And with social media at our fingertips nowadays, it’s becoming hard not to be noticed when we place our name on anything written. But the difference is many crave the fame, want the spotlight, and need the ego boost, unlike Neil Armstrong.
I was six years old when Mr. Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins made their incredible journey. American was different back then. People were much prouder and had greater faith in their government, their leaders, and the superiority of American ingenuity. President Kennedy challenged our nation to put a man on the moon and it aggressively answered the call. It was a time when anything made within our shores was deemed to be the best in the world, and the only competition we had was literally with ourselves. The Space Program proved we could achieve anything with technology, and the Universe was ours for the taking. People like Mr. Armstrong were around every corner, humble people, those anxious to give it their all and surge forward for the greater good. America had no limits back then as to what it could achieve. People were much more united, patriotic, and proud to be a member of the greatest country on earth. From what my parents have told me, there wasn’t the narcissistic environment like there is today.
I’ve been involved in aviation during most of my adult life, so naturally, Neil Armstrong represents the epitome of what it means to slap on a pair of wings and leave the earth. Those who flew with him before and after his Apollo mission all said the same: that nothing was ever about Neil, and he was the finest, most humble man they’d ever known, an unwanted hero. NASA chose him for many reasons to be the first to step on the moon. It was said that one of the biggest was he expressed no ego. They also knew he was the one who could handle the symbolism, responsibility, attention, global notoriety, and publicity of what he was selected to do; that their reputation, and that of the American people, rested safely in his honorable hands. And they were right. He did no bragging, no searching for attention, and no speeches looking to prop up his name. He later said he knew that being the first to step on the lunar surface would propel him into the history book stratosphere. But, he only looked at it as doing his job. What he was trained for, and what could be learned from in order to achieve much greater acts of exploration.
Neil Armstrong was honored recently with a decorated memorable service before having his ashes sprinkled across the ocean. He will be remembered as someone who served for the betterment of others, and wanted nothing more than a respected legacy.
Well, I for one respect his wishes.
My wish: that we have more people like Neil Armstrong in the world today.
God speed Neil. I’ll always think of you when I gaze upon the moon.