The above printed remarks were written for President Richard Nixon in case something went wrong with the Apollo 11 mission to the moon and stranded the astronauts there. We had absolutely no hopes of recovering the men if such an accident had occurred, and those men knew that. They knew that they were heading further from home than any human ever had before and that they were entirely on their own the whole way.
As a nation we entrusted our greatest adventure to our greatest men, men who became our heroes, inspiring generations of scientists and military men because they had their feet in both camps having been trained as engineers and airplane pilots before being sent into the wild, black yonder.
When the men came home, they had the world at their fingertips, finding themselves in demand for endorsements, appearances, speaking engagements, and every possible opportunity for moneymaking believable. This era - those of the second seven as well as the original nine - is wonderfully told in Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff.
And there was Neil Armstrong choosing to disappear from the public eye and requiring his accomplishments to speak for themselves, to eschew the greatest of possible famous lives. Instead, he moved back to Ohio and lived not thirty miles from where I eventually made my home, making occasional appearances - most notably in the last few years when he was chosen for and humbly served jury duty, simply and quickly acknowledging the assembled press before heading into the courthouse.
When, this past week, Neil Armstrong passed on, we lost one of our greatest and most private Americans. His family released the following statement after his passing:
“We are heartbroken to share the news that Neil Armstrong has passed away following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures.I promise I'll stop posting about the man for at least a while, but I thank so many folks on the intertubes for posting their tributes to Armstrong. Here's the last one I'll point out, from the Sci-ence site.
“Neil was our loving husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend.
“Neil Armstrong was also a reluctant American hero who always believed he was just doing his job. He served his Nation proudly, as a navy fighter pilot, test pilot, and astronaut. He also found success back home in his native Ohio in business and academia, and became a community leader in Cincinnati.
“He remained an advocate of aviation and exploration throughout his life and never lost his boyhood wonder of these pursuits.
“As much as Neil cherished his privacy, he always appreciated the expressions of good will from people around the world and from all walks of life.
“While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves.
“For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”