The 50-year anniversary date of the first man, an American, who walked on the surface of the moon, was in July of this year. So, I thought I might take you back in time and share the experience from my viewpoint, as the carefree 12-year-old kid I was on Sunday, July 20, 1969. So, I am a couple of months late.
Early that day my father, who was also a newspaper publisher, scurried around the house gathering a variety of camera equipment. He had a tripod, two different cameras and five or six boxes of high-speed black and white film (which was what pictures used to come from).
He took all this gear and a couple of camera bags and plopped them by our big console TV. You know, the kind that was encased in a large, beautiful and decorative solid wood frame, and at the bottom were two brass handles that looked like they were connected to pull-out drawers, but weren’t.
As I watched him go through this process I thought, “Hmm, wonder what he’s up to.” I was afraid to ask because if I did it might lead to me having to help or do some chore I didn’t want to do. That happened sometimes when I asked too many questions. So, outside I went to do something constructive, like cruise the streets of my small hometown on my new Schwinn Stingray bicycle I had just purchased.
As the day wore on it became middle of the afternoon. I thought I should head back home. As I entered my house and walked into the family room where the TV was, I saw dad had set up a photo studio with cameras, lights, flash guns, and it was all directed at that big console TV. Now I really wondered if he had lost his mind and I was definitely not going to ask questions.
So back outside I went to brush up on my basketball skills with some of the neighborhood kids. Soon, I saw the front door open and my dad stepped out on the front porch. In his big booming voice he said, “Jeff, you need to come in the house.” I responded with, “What for?” “Because I need to talk to you about something … now,” he said.
“Oh no,” I thought. I must have done something wrong. So the other kids quickly headed for home and I cautiously moved toward him not knowing what I had done and wondering if I would ever see daylight again.
I asked what the problem was. “No problem,” he said with a bit of a smile on his face. He explained he wanted to show me something and took me back to the room with the TV and his photo equipment, still all directed toward the console TV. I sat down in a chair, at his direction, and he went on to tell me that something very big is going to happen today.
He said in just a few hours two Americans are going to land on the moon, get out of their space module and step down on the surface of the moon. He told me it’s something the country has worked really hard for and it will be the first time, and maybe the last, that we will ever see this happen. He told me he wanted me to see it, and that it could be something that I’ll always remember.
I had some memory the event was going to take place, but had really lost track of the details. After my dad’s explanations, I could tell this must be a pretty big deal. So I thought sure, why not?
As I watched things progress through the late afternoon and evening I became more engulfed in the whole event. Then Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon’s surface and proudly spoke those famous words – “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Even at 12 years old hearing those words made me realize I had witnessed something special.
As years went on, I realized the impact it had on my dad, a member of World War II’s greatest generation. The conflict with the Russians, communism and the race to the moon were all part of a time that brought the country together to create yet another win. My father’s generation lived life with a determination that none of us today can really fathom, whether it’s going to the moon or saving the world. Failure wasn’t an option.
Thanks, Dad, for making sure I saw something that day in 1969 that helped me define the true heroes of then and now.