I remember sitting in my fifth grade desk at St. Rita Catholic School in 1962.
Everyone knew that Astronaut John Glenn was circling the earth in a spaceship. The principle of the school interrupted our class on the P.A. system declaring the successful splashdown after Glenn had circled the planet three times in the Redstone capsule (Project Mercury). The class cheered. Not bad for a bunch of fifth-graders who had just come out of the shock that the Russians had missiles in Cuba and that our Navy had caused them to back the hec off. It’s amazing to me now to think how up-to-date we were. We were fifth graders that knew something about our country, the risks, like nuclear war and the space race with Russia.
I probably was a little more proud than most because I knew my dad worked in the space program. His was a small part but that didn’t take away from the pride we felt for him and our country as we “one-upped” the Russians just as then President Kennedy vowed we’d be on the moon by 1970.
It was with interest that I and the other students watched further developments in the space program, especially Apollo. Astronauts were everyone’s heroes, although Glenn, being the first was everyone’s favorite, that is until Neil Armstrong came along.
It was a very different time when Astronaut Armstrong uttered the famous words he did. In 1962 we were terrified of the Russians in Cuba. Grown up teen-angers by 1969 we were terrified of being drafted and going to Vietnam which by 1969 was clearly a quagmire.
I remember every night watching the nightly news with Walter Cronkite. By 1969 we had seen almost four years of nightly news featuring the Vietnam War. I had just turned 16 when Neil Armstrong said that landing on the moon was a giant leap for mankind. I remember watching it on TV and what an escape it was from the reality of Vietnam dominating the news.
Our family cheered just as the fifth-grade class cheered back in 1962. We were proud to be Americans and even when our goals in Vietnam became murkier and murkier there was always pride in those who served, whether they be grunts in Nam or our Astronauts in space.
Neil Armstrong was a class act, a humble national hero who made us proud to be Americans. Those were the days. The Eagle had landed.
- John Glenn Visits Cleveland, Remembers Neil Armstrong (fox8.com)
- Astronaut Neil Armstrong, First Man on the Moon, Dies at 82 (sciencespacerobots.com)