Saturday, August 25, 2012
He was an Eagle Scout. He was a college graduate at time when that was about as common as graduate degrees are now. He was a test pilot, a Naval Officer, a Korean War veteran, a teacher, and of course, an astronaut.
In my boyhood mind, he was the astronaut. I felt an affinity to him because we shared a last name, and I wanted to go to the moon, too. Some kids changed their answer, from time to time, to the question: "What do you want to be when you grow up". My answer never wavered; I wanted to be an astronaut. When I finally realized that kids with glasses don't grow up to be astronauts, I stopped knowing what I wanted to be, and I never knew again.
Neil represents another era to me. He was an All American Hero™ in a day when something like that could be said without irony or eye rolling. The famous phrase, "One small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind." shows a humility that has receded from our culture. The Apollo mission was a decade long project that Americans threw their unified will into. It was wrapped in enthusiasm for scientific advancement, the spirit of exploration, and fear of the USSR - that great and terrifying specter of communism, and godless, evil men. This was a time when The Future™ was still a vision of flying cars, and gee, weren't we getting close? A time when Neil Armstrong would meet and marry a woman who was at Purdue studying home economics. A time when the face of America was a straight, white, male face, and mostly we had not yet grasped that there was any problem with this.
I'm sad that Neil Armstrong is gone. For better and for worse, all of those other things are gone, too.