America is the land of opportunity, carved out by heroes from all walks of life. But among them, few have handled fame as well as Neil Armstrong.
His story will be told in theaters across the country this week with the release of “First Man.” A special premier showing will be held Thursday at the Wapa Theater in Wapakoneta, Armstrong’s hometown. It also opens Friday in Lima.
Based on the book by James Hansen, the movie is a look at the life of the astronaut and the legendary space mission that led him to becoming the first man to walk on the moon.
Armstrong gave America a lesson about humility.
He always emphasized the teamwork of the 400,000 Americans instrumental to Apollo’s success, explaining it was mostly the luck of the draw that saw him become the commander of the first moon landing.
He also showed us the importance of exploration and reminded us that with enough drive and ingenuity, anything is possible.
When others would say, “no you can’t,” Neil Armstrong would counter, “yes you can.”
He was a dreamer who believed obstacles were placed in our way so we could overcome them – such as learning to fly an airplane at age six, which Armstrong did.
Armstrong reminded us that magnificent things can be achieved by ordinary people living in small towns with funny names like Wapakoneta. Life doesn’t begin and end in New York City.
When his foot touched the moon on July 20, 1969, the eyes of 600 million people were trained on the grainy black-and-white television images of him. Then with one sentence — “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind” — the turbulent 1960s took a few hours off. Fathers, mothers, hippies and “the establishment” had something in common: Their hearts were beating red, white and blue. They were proud to be Americans.
At that moment, Neil Armstrong firmly established himself as one of the greatest heroes of the 20th century.
Yet, the former Eagle Scout from Troop 14 of St. Paul E&R Church didn’t care for such notoriety, although he understood the importance of being a role model. He lived his life with honor right up until his death at the age of 82.
“I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer,” Armstrong said during a rare public appearance in 2000. “And I take a substantial amount of pride in the accomplishments of my profession.”
Armstrong would be asked thousands of times after the flight of Apollo 11 to describe what it felt like to be the first man on the moon. In answering, he always shared the glory: “I was certainly aware that this was the culmination of the work of 300,000 to 400,000 people over a decade.”
The closest Armstrong came to describing what the Apollo 11 mission meant to him was during a Life magazine interview several weeks before the flight.
“The single thing which makes any man happiest is the realization that he has worked up to the limits of his ability, his capacity,” Armstrong said. “It’s all the better, of course, if this work has made a contribution to knowledge, or toward moving the human race a little farther forward.”
Hansen, the man Armstrong trusted to write his biography, tells several wonderful stories about Armstrong in a story published on the Space.com Web site.
The first dealt with Armstrong’s wit. While he was playing in a pro-am golf tournament, a woman approached him on the putting green asked, “Aren’t you somebody that I should know?” Armstrong’s ingenious and self-effacing answer was, “Probably not.”
The second story involved Armstrong’s character. In his young 20s, he flew 78 combat missions over North Korea. One of those missions saw him passing over a ridge of low mountains in his F9F Panther jet, where before him were rows and rows of North Korean soldiers, unarmed, doing their daily calisthenics. Armstrong could have mowed them down with machine-gun fire, wrote Hansen, but he chose to take his finger off the trigger and fly on. Armstrong explained, “It looked like they were having a rough enough time doing their morning exercises.” Hansen, though, saw it for what it was: “There was something too honorable in Neil for him to kill men who were in no position to defend themselves.
Armstrong was never about himself. In 2002, Clint Eastwood approached Hansen and Armstrong about making a movie based on the biography. Eastwood invited them to play a round of golf, and as Hansen headed to the golf carts he saw Armstrong taking his bag of clubs off of Eastwood’s cart and putting Hansen’s bag in its place. Armstrong explained, “You need to be riding with Clint.” Truth was, Armstrong could have cared less if a movie was ever made about his life, Hansen said. “Whatever he did, Neil personified the essential qualities and core values of a superlative human being,” Hansen wrote.
The fact is Neil Armstrong was a man who could not be bought at any price. But what he and the many space explorers who followed him have brought us is priceless.
They’ve helped the country build the communication satellites that power our digital lives. They’re linked to better aircraft, better medical equipment and better weather predictions.
On July 20, 1969, few would have envisioned the life we live today.
It truly was, “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”