As a young boy I had a handful of heroes. My Father who was a Marine and served in the Korean War. My other heroes in general, were astronauts. Any and all of them. In fact I was pretty geeky as a kid before that word came into normal usage and didn’t mean something creepy.
I was soooo into the space program that I recall creating my own “Astronaut Baseball Cards”. They didn’t sell them in the dime store, so I used to cut out pictures of the various astronauts and make up “stats” about them, like how many space walks they’d done, how many times they went into space, and crap like “How long they can hold their breath”. I think I made some of it up.
A few days ago, one of my childhood heroes died. Neil Armstrong was born on August 5th, 1930 – exactly 27 years to the day that I was born. Yup, I shared a birthday with him. Armstrong was the first man to walk on the Moon on 21 July 1969. He and “Buzz” Aldrin landed there on the 20th of July and I watched for days while they flew, landed, walked and lifted off to meet up with Michael Collins in Apollo 11.
Last night there was a “Blue Moon”…. a Blue moon I am sure any sailor reading will know, is the second full moon of the month and happens rather rarely. Yesterday was the day they buried Neil Armstrong. When they announced his death, it hit me pretty hard. I’ve never met the man, but I consider him a National Hero. He was one of those people who did great things and never bragged about it, never let it go to his head. He stood out from the crowd and avoided contact with the public and the media for most of the rest of his life. I don’t know enough about him to understand his thinking but he was humble, unafraid of the world I am sure. Anyone who can jump in a tiny speck of dust and fly to, and land on the moon, walk on it and come home in one piece is a person who is courageous, heroic and deserving of any praise applied to him, regardless of his own beliefs about himself.
Neil Armstrong, while not “quite” the hero I consider my father to be, or even my father-in-law (who served in World War II in the US Army) is still one of those men who come rarely to this Earth and even more rarely distinguish themselves as a pioneer, a hero and a person every child might aspire to be like.
The original Seven Astronauts were the first guys I made “Baseball cards” for…. and when Grissom died in Apollo Eight, I remember crying about him. I didn’t cry for Neil… But I pulled my car over for a moment. Below are the the original Seven Mercury Astronauts.
- Scott Carpenter
- L. Gordon Cooper
- John H. Glenn Jr.
- Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom
- Walter H. “Wally” Schirra Jr.
- Alan B. Shepard Jr.
- Donald K. “Deke” Slayton
As a sailor I read a lot about the sailors of old, Cook, Columbus, Degama, Polo and so on. As an American born in the early 20th Century and having lived into the 21st century I sincerely expected our Astronauts would pioneer the way to Mars, a Lunar Colony and perhaps even land on an asteroid. But our political structure has thus far prevented such things.
To me, I guess I will leave it to the grandchildren and perhaps the great-grandchildren to get there…. and get the politics right (or remove politics from the equation) but for me, I’ll head to the Caribbean, do an Atlantic circumnavigation and be happy with tracing the steps of the Vikings, Pirates, Privateers and great Explorers of 15th, 16th and 17th centuries…..
Bon Voyage Astronaut Armstrong – may you fly to many planets and stars and explore them ahead of us all.