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  • August 2012
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Yet another gone

Posted by Euroranger on August 27, 2012

So…one of my childhood heroes died this past weekend.  My hero was an old man.  He led a full and very interesting life.  His passing marks what I think will be the beginning of a era that marks a long slide backward for, well, not just our generation or even our country but perhaps all of mankind.  This is sad to me not because of the slide we’ll all experience but because it’s entirely avoidable.  It’ll happen anyway and when it’s done someone will one day finally stick their head up, look around and ask “hey, whatever happened to that guy” and someone else will have to say “oh, he died” and we’ll all collectively realize (or maybe not) that we’ve lost something that used to be a really important part of being an American.

Yes, my hero was an American.  The funny thing about heroes: there are a lot of them.  Another funny thing about heroes: they tend to be heroes because of a single defining moment or event.  My hero was one of many such heroes.  He was an ordinary man that did extraordinary things.  He also tends to be associated with a single defining moment for so many people and indeed, when I was a kid, he was my hero for that one thing he’d done.  However, my hero was a hero’s hero because as I got older and learned more about him, he got even more heroic.  Normal heroes have their moment in the sun and then they either bask in it for a time or pass out of it and move on.  My hero kind of didn’t really do either.  He accomplished something nobody can top but rather than even linger a moment in the limelight as quite possibly the world’s most famous man, not only did he move on he never really moved into the limelight in the first place.  Unlike so many others, he didn’t try to parlay his fame and accomplishments into a political career, didn’t endorse products, didn’t seek out new publicity or even try and capitalize on his old fame.  In fact, he refused most requests for interviews, quit autographing various items when he discovered they were being resold for large amounts of money.  He even had to go to court twice to keep others from cashing in on his fame and when he won both times…he donated the suit proceeds to charities.

Neil Armstrong on Apollo 11 on the way to the Moon

Neil Armstrong on Apollo 11 on the way to the Moon

Neil Alden Armstrong personified service, modesty, accomplishment and humility as no person I’ve ever been aware of before.  He was not only the first man to walk on a heavenly body other than the Earth, he was also the man who saved Gemini 8 from the first in-space emergency and did it with a cool head and no doubts.  He oversaw the commission that investigated the Challenger disaster and eventually went on to sit on the board of the company whose O-rings were found to be at fault for the disaster…solely so he could help ensure such never happened again.  He walked on the Moon in July of 1969 but upon returning said he’d step aside and let other astronauts take his place and less than 2 years later, he retired from NASA altogether.  When he and the crew of Apollo 11 returned and after their 45 day tour of the United States to celebrate their achievement, when Armstrong had his pick of literally thousands of options for what he’d do next, he chose to go to Vietnam with Bob Hope and visit the troops there during some of the darkest days of the war.

There is literally so many things to say about Armstrong that define his humility and humble nature that I can’t even begin to list them all.  If I just keep it to Apollo 11 (and ignore the years as a navy aviator, his service during the Korean War, his years as a test pilot, his astronaut career during the Gemini program) Armstrong:

  • Manually landed the lunar lander, Eagle, after realizing via several emergency alarms and observing that they were erroneously drifting toward a hazardous rocky area.  Later it was discovered that Armstrong’s takeover from the automatic landing system likely saved their lives and that he’d used nearly all the planned and reserve fuel to do so.
  • That while on the Moon, and in the midst of a fierce United States/Soviet Union space race, Armstrong left a small package of memorial items to deceased Soviet cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin and Vladimir Komarov, and Apollo 1 astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger B. Chaffee.  For having just over 145 minutes on the surface of the Moon and the fact that nearly every action was scripted down to the second, this was a memorial he insisted, as mission commander, be included in the itinerary when he learned of it.
  • After they re-entered the Eagle and closed and sealed the hatch, Armstrong and Aldrin discovered that, in their bulky spacesuits, they had broken the breaker ignition switch for the ascent engine.  Rather than radio Houston with an emergency Armstrong broke off and used part of a ballpoint pen and managed to push the circuit breaker in to activate the launch sequence.
  • Despite being the first man on the Moon and there being preserved video of his first steps, in the entire Apollo 11 photographic record, there are only five images of Armstrong partly shown or reflected…mostly because he was the man taking the pictures.  No direct still photographs of the man who took “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” while on the Moon.

But perhaps the truly most remarkable thing about Neil Armstrong was how he passed on.  He died on a summer Saturday afternoon, perhaps the man credited with the most famous accomplishment in the history of mankind, and his passing was merely noted by most media outlets.  In a day and age where network news channels broke into their scheduled programming to gnash teeth, whine, moan and wring hands at the passing of Steve Jobs, Armstrong’s passing wasn’t mentioned for hours after the event and even then initially only in the scrolling news line at the bottom of the screen.  Obit writers spend more time writing about people who are still alive so when they do pass, the article is complete, without error, and unemotional.  The only real writing they do when someone does pass is fill in the blanks about how and surviving relatives, etc.  There should have certainly been more on hand for someone like Armstrong, without a doubt and by the fact that there wasn’t is a testament not only to the man’s desire to live his life privately but that he was successful in doing so.  That even when America discovered they’d lost a hero of the stature of a Neil Armstrong that they collectively shrugged their shoulders is more an indictment of how far we’ve fallen as a people and how much further we’ll still fall as our only crop of astronaut heroes who have walked on the surface of another worlds starts to die off from old age and nobody standing behind them to replace them.

Godspeed Neil Armstrong.  You’ll be missed by those who know how great you were and how much poorer we all collectively are with your absence.

My name is Euroranger and I approved this message.


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