Remembering July 20, 1969

Published July 19, 2019

The summer of 1969 was one of my most memorable. I’m on summer #63 now, so that’s a lot of summers to choose from. Two things stand out most about that summer: Wrigley Field and the Moon.

I was 13. It was the first summer my parents deemed me old enough to take the “L” to Wrigley Field to see Chicago Cubs games. Wrigley didn’t have lights then, so all games were during the day. Bleacher seats were $1. The Cubs had a great team in 1969, with five future Hall of Famers. They were in first place most of the season before blowing the division to the New York Mets.

My friend Larry and I must have gone to a dozen Cubs games that summer, including Kenny Holtzman’s no-hitter. But on July 20, we were not at Wrigley. I remember that day playing baseball in the street with some other kids on Larry’s block till late afternoon. Then that evening, I watched on TV with my parents as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldren took Man’s first steps on the moon. The Moon!

I don’t have heroes. My dad maybe, but mostly just because he was my dad. If someone had ever saved my life or the life of a loved one, I guess that person would be my hero. But that’s never happened. I’m not into hero-worship. As a grown man, I have too much pride to gush over a fellow human being. There are people I admire. But even these folks are few and far between.

When I’ve been asked who I admire most, the first person that always comes to mind is Barack Obama. I admire his intelligence, humility, the way he treats people – qualities I’d respect in anyone. But he overcame the ugly racism that still exists in this country to be elected twice by a majority of voters to the presidency of the United States. Quite an achievement. But it’s the qualities of the man I admire more than the achievement.

Same with the the other person who often comes to mind, Neil Armstrong. Anyone alive in the 1950s and ‘60s remembers the steady progress of the U.S. space program, from Mercury to Gemini to Apollo. We watched the liftoffs in our grade-school classrooms. Each flight did more, went farther, from orbiting the earth to space walks and docking, to orbiting and finally landing on the moon.

I’d guess that most people who think this stuff was fake probably weren’t alive when it happened. They only know what they’ve read or seen in documentaries by people hell-bent on convincing others that this stuff didn’t happen. What bugs me is how this disregards the blood, sweat and tears of hundreds of thousands of people, from the astronauts who put their lives on the line to the workers at the companies that built the space ships to the people at Mission Control.

One person who was not bothered by the conspiracy talk was Neil Armstrong. “It doesn’t bother me,” he said. “It will all pass in time.” Being the first man on the moon was a big deal back then. Who would it be? And they couldn’t have picked a humbler guy. He despised the spotlight. His sole focus was doing something he believed was important to Man’s progress in pursuing the next frontier: space.

It’s a shame Armstrong is not alive to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this historic event. If he were, he would surely deflect credit to everyone else besides himself because that’s the kind of man he was. Achievements are great, but true greatness lies within an individual. Here’s to you, Mr. Armstrong. You’re the Man.