Freedom New Mexico
As heroes go, Neil Armstrong found himself in a spotlight like no other.
A worldwide audience of 600 million watched their televisions 40 years ago Monday as he stepped from the lunar module Eagle and onto the moon’s surface. They hung on every word as Armstrong uttered his long-anticipated pronouncement, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
For the next 2 hours and 13 minutes, an enthralled world would watch Armstrong explore the landing site, take photographs, and collect rocks. At one point, he and co-pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin used wires to erect an American flag, making sure Old Glory appeared to “fly” in the vacuum of the moon’s atmosphere.
Back on Earth, fathers stood in their back yards with their daughters, staring at the heavens. Traffic on freeways stopped as people listened to their radios and honked their horns.
America had accomplished what at one time was unthinkable. And Neil Armstrong, of tiny Wapakoneta, Ohio, was the most famous person on this planet.
But today, it’s more than the moon walk that distinguishes Armstrong from the many heroes who have captured our hearts. It is also the dignified way he has handled himself the last 40 years.
By all accounts, Armstrong has been a humble, reluctant celebrity, one who feels blessed and believes it is wrong to capitalize on his notoriety He made that clear shortly after he returned from the moon. Handed a check for $1 million to do a series of endorsements, Armstrong promptly gave it back. He was not about to reap rewards from his fame and fortune.
The last four decades have continued to see Armstrong prefer privacy over publicity. On those rare occasions when he has spoken in public, his words have been poetic. Such as his description of viewing the Earth from a space capsule some 238,000 miles away:
“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.”
He has said he could not recall a time when flying was not on his mind.
“As a boy, because I was born and raised in Ohio, about 60 miles north of Dayton, the legends of the Wright brothers have been in my memory as long as I can remember.”
Armstrong will turn 79 in August. People talk about that in hushed, respectful tones. No one wants to sound disrespectful, but with each year they know the day is coming when their hero will no longer be here to celebrate such anniversaries.
Armstrong actually addressed that subject years ago, again showing his knack for crafting the right words for the right moment. This time it came with a touch of humor, and remains quite telling of his legend.
“I believe every human has a finite number of heartbeats. I don’t intend to waste any of mine.”