Is there anything more American than the story of Neil Armstrong?
A quiet, unassuming man from the middle of nowhere becomes the most famous man of his time, simply because he worked harder and smarter.
And then, as soon as he could, he returned to what he loved most, science, and kept away from the spotlight for the rest of his life.
The Wapakoneta native, who died in 2012, remains an American hero, not just because he stepped onto the moon before anyone else back in 1969. It’s not because he uttered the words, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
He’s still an icon worldwide 50 years later because he did it the right way. He worked hard. He studied hard. He learned everything he could, so he delivered under the pressure of the whole world watching as he commanded the Apollo 11 mission.
In the modern world, it’s almost unfathomable to imagine Armstrong’s rise to fame. In an age where people become famous for their big personalities via reality television and YouTube videos, he became famous for having a big brain and calm nerves. The more he didn’t want the attention, the more Americans craved knowing more about him,
And let’s not shortchange the era in which it came. The 1960s were a tumultuous time in American history. The president who promised to send a man to the moon was assassinated, as was his brother and a civil rights icon. The country argued about an unpopular war in Vietnam.
Despite all that, the country united to cheer on this unlikely hero. They united around their sets for one of the first televised live news events. They celebrated together, regardless of race, creed or color. They cheered when they heard “The Eagle has landed.”
They celebrated one of us, someone from west central Ohio. Really, all of Ohio can claim Armstrong, as they did John Glenn and other space pioneers, but Armstrong really had lived all over the state before spending his teen years in Wapakoneta.
This worldwide hero wasn’t from a big city in New York, Florida or California. No, he came from Wapakoneta, reminding us that any of us can be anything if we put our minds to it if we work toward our goals.
The next Armstrong might be among us today, ready to step into the limelight when the time is right. Who knows which pioneers that person might explore or which problems they might solve.
Thanks to Armstrong, we all know it’s possible and within reach. That’s an American tale worth remembering and repeating, 50 years after the moon landing and beyond.