Neil Armstrong. Dead at 82.
I don't know why his passing should come as such a shock, but it did.
We don't have many heroes in this country anymore -- other than the men and women who put their lives on the line on a daily basis for our protection and our freedom, of course. But I'm talking larger-than-life heroes; going where no man has ever dared to go heroes. I am talking about people like --well, people like Neil Armstrong.
Can you imagine what must have been going through his mind when he sat back atop that Saturn rocket, he and the other astronauts of Apollo 11, waiting to be propelled out of the earth's atmosphere, through outer space and to the lunar surface? Can you imagine what his thoughts were as he prepared to climb down from that lunar landing module?
Can you imagine how much faith he had to place in the thousands of people of NASA that were involved in the mission in some way?
If you are within 10 years of me, age-wise, I am certain you remember exactly where you were, what you were doing and who you were with on July 20, 1969, when Armstrong and his crew made their giant leap into the history books.
I spent the afternoon at a theater in Buckhead, with my high school girlfriend, Kim Puckett. We saw "Goodbye Columbus," with Ali McGraw and Richard Benjamin. Even the fact that I knew Ali McGraw took her clothes off in the movie and dove into a swimming pool couldn't hold me in my seat. I kept sneaking back to the concession stand where the popcorn girl had a small television set tuned to the action on the moon. Except there wasn't much action. All we could see for what seemed like hours was the LLM sitting on the surface of the moon. And it really did look for all the world like a fake contraption set up in the Arizona desert somewhere.
I could have watched the movie because when I got home Sunday night, the module was still just sitting there. It took so long for Armstrong to make an appearance that "Bonanza" was preempted for the moon walk.
But when the hatch finally opened and Neil Armstrong climbed down that ladder and stepped onto the surface of the moon, I was watching with pride. The American flag he planted that day is still there and no other country's colors have flown on the surface of any celestial body.
"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Wow!
I wish I could have had the opportunity to interview Neil Armstrong. I would have liked to ask him about his thoughts, his fears, his dreams. I'd have asked him if it was worth it. I would have asked him what he thinks about the direction our space program is now headed -- or our entire country, for that matter.
Most of all I would like to ask him if the story about Mr. Lipinski was true.
According to legend, while Michael Collins was "waiting in the truck" so to speak and Armstrong and his partner, Buzz Aldrin were knocking golf balls around near their landing site, Neil Armstrong gazed toward earth and said "Congratulations, Mr. Lipinski."
When Mission Control in Houston asked him about the comment he just sloughed it off. Years later, however, after both Mr. and Mrs. Lipinski were dead, Armstrong -- again, according to legend -- explained that the Lipinskis were his next door neighbors when he was growing up. He supposedly said that when he was a small boy he was retrieving an errant ball from the Lipinskis' yard and overheard Mrs. L saying that she would do a "certain favor" for her husband when the boy next door walked on the moon.
I am pretty certain that nothing about that story is true, but I wish it were.
Neil Armstrong -- an American hero. His passing should remind us of a time when the United States of America could accomplish anything we set our collective minds to. I hope and pray that those days aren't gone forever. The world needs for those days not to be gone forever.
Friday night we have a blue moon -- our second full moon of this month. When you glance up at it, as I am sure you will, remember that the first person to walk on it was an American. May that great American rest in peace.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at email@example.com. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.