My maternal grandfather retired from NASA at the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama some time before I was born. He was born in the early part of the Twentieth Century, walked to Chicago to find work during the Depression, and enlisted in the Army six times during World War II. He was in his mid thirties and already a father. My mother was born in 1948 after his return from the South Pacific.
Due to his previous employment and living in Huntsville, my brother and I were afforded quite a few trips to the Space and Rocket Center. My favorite being the time my grandfather took me for Miss Baker’s birthday. Miss Baker was a spider monkey, one of the first in space, and in 1959 one of the first to return from space. Somewhere, I have a photograph signed with a paw print.
Like most kids of the seventies I was excited by space, rocket ships and space travel. Not only did I grow up with names like Starbuck, Buck Rogers, and Luke Skywalker, I knew of John Glenn, Buzz Aldrin, and Neil Armstrong.
Neil Armstrong’s passing was newsworthy enough to permeate my general news media block out, which, as far as I’m concerned, confirms the good sense of that block out. If it’s important enough, I’ll hear about it. Everything else is just clutter for my mind.
When I was in the first grade I received a blue ribbon in the science fair for my report and paper mache replica of Neil on the moon. I don’t really remember what I wrote but that ribbon cemented my relationship with Neil, whether he knew it or not, we were buds for life.
Samantha sent me an obituary from Esquire magazine, written by Charles P. Pierce. She pulled out this quote, saying, “Here’s what you have in common with Mr. Armstrong.”
“That was the great gift that he had — that great icy core of knowing that there was always something else to try, that a man can outthink his fate, on the spot, if he knows what he knows and when to apply it. There was in this guy a terribly fierce opponent for mischance.”
I don’t know if that’s true or not. She is my wife and likely to be biased, but it’s is a quality I admire. It’s what set men like Neil and my grandfather apart, a quality so elusive that we idolize those before us who had it.
Did I mention my grandfather walked to Chicago, Illinois to find work during the Depression? Did I mention that he lived on a farm in Savannah, Georgia? He enlisted six times during World War II before the army would take him, they finally began to run out of young soldiers.
More than losing men who know what it’s like to stand on the moon, I think we are losing men. Boyhood is becoming interminable and we’re losing something much more valuable than the space race.