‘My huckleberry friend, Moon River and me.’ Thoughts on Neil Armstrong, hero. Dead at 82, August 25, 2012.

by  Dr. Jeffrey Lant

Author’s program note. Do you remember where you were July 20, 1969?
It was one of the iconic dates in the history of our species. Like virtually everyone
in the United States and world I was glued to the television, in my case in San Francisco.
I was mesmerized by an unfolding event that previously could only be imagined. I
was watching a representative of our species — an American man — walk on the
untrodden moon and make us all so proud, not least for the simplicity and universality
of his short remarks, a few words that will live forever:

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The bar I was in erupted into prolonged cheers as these words, crackling
through the distance, rained upon us like a benediction. First the words… then
mayhem. I shouted along with the entire world… hugged… kissed total strangers,
people I had never seen before and would never see again. All because one man,
seen clearly if imperfectly in the grainy pictures from on high, had done a thing every
infant can do… take a first step.

At the moment it happened, we were all drawn together. There was a sense of
profound joy, relief, and pride in our Great Republic and what it could do when it
focused on the project at hand, doing it right, doing it the can-do American way….
As a nation we needed this shot in the arm, we needed this re-affirmation, we
needed to be reminded there’s nothing we cannot do when we insist on doing it.
That day, the day we all remember like it happened yesterday, was many things —
a once-in-a lifetime thrill; a risky, even dangerous challenge successfully met;
essential confirmation that we were indeed a people of dexterity and destiny, but
above all we were still inhabitants of that shining City on a Hill, a people of vision,
of great goals set and great goals achieved. No wonder there were hugs and kisses
all round.

At the center of our jubilation about taming the moon was one decent, grounded
man, the kind of man-next-door we all knew and relied upon. And as we saw and
heard him at his essentiali work, we were glad in our souls that such a one was
treading the moon for all of us, for he was one of us, the best of us, the very
person we instinctively knew was so right for the work at hand. This was the true
importance and lasting legacy of Neil Armstrong, the right man at the right place at
the time we needed him.

How had this crucial serendipity happened?

America’s lunar perambulation (but not yet Armstrong’s part) was predictable from
4 October 1957. This was the fateful date of another iconic event, the day the Soviet
Union, the deadliest of our enemies, sent Earth’s first artificial satellite into orbit. The
result was mass terror, profound fear and a certainty that the Russkies were indeed
coming, were in fact already on their way, Sputnik I the precursor of American
subjugation and humiliation.

Like all my countrymen, like concerned peoples everywhere, I looked up that
perfect fall evening and saw… a future where everywhere around me, the verities
of our national life, its blessed contours, its fundamental certainties was all at risk,
my life no longer mine but waiting to be claimed by clever partisans of the Evil
Empire, our soon-to-be masters. No one who was not present that night can
understand this profound angst, despair, and horror at what we all knew was the
impending apocalypse.

We all vowed that this would not occur… and if it did that we, not the Russians,
would emerge victorious, whatever was required. We were not born to be second
rate, to fill second place… and the politicians who understood this and spoke to
and promised a great national revival were the ones who captured our attention,
our votes, and our admiration.

John F. Kennedy was such a man, and he recognized that sending a man to the
moon and bringing him safely home was the adamant symbol the world needed to
confirm America’s place at the top. Such a mission, dangerous, expensive,
unprecedented was just the tonic needed to repair and reinvigorate the body politic.
On May 25, 1961 before a Joint Session of Congress, Kennedy threw down the
gauntlet… we would go to the moon, no ifs, ands, or buts. 

“Moon River”.

Just as the president was making this epochal announcement, this historic commitment
to lunar and planetary exploration, a song was sweeping the nation. It was “Moon River”
by Johnny Mercer (lyrics) and Henry Mancini (music). Sung by Audrey Hepburn in the film
“Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, it won the 1961 Academy Award  for “Best Original Song.” It’s
lyrics might have been written for the new space program:

“Moon River, wider than a mile,/ I’m crossing you in style some day.”

Smart people, people with insight, realized Hepburn wasn’t just singing about a lazy
Southern river but, far more significant, the actual moon itself, “my huckleberry friend”.
And so Holly Golightly became an advocate of lunar lift-off. “Moon River and me.” But
who would lead the expedition, called Apollo 11, crossing the moon in style?

There was just a handful of men qualified to do so; one of them was Neil Armstrong,
naval aviator, aerospace engineer, a level-headed Ohio man who had, since joining the
NASA Astronaut Corps in 1962, moved up in the program, steadily, consistently, one
important reason why being the fact that he was liked by all, his ego firmly in control.

This was a very important factor in that hothouse of male egos called NASA. He was
the ultimate team player who made it clear to the powers that be, “wherever you’re
going I’m going your way.”  It was a message heard loud and clear. Here was a man
who understood not only the complicated technical aspects but the fact that the lunar
mission was also and more importantly a signal to Americans that we were back on
top again while reassuring everyone else that our motives were generous, humane
and in no way threatening to them.

“The Eagle has landed.”

Thus on that day of our nation’s pride in July, 1969 it was Armstrong who commanded
the mission and thrilled an expectant world with the announcement they had landed…
followed about 6 hours and 30 minutes later with the words that ensured his place in
history… and our hearts. Inevitably honors were rained upon him and his crew, co-pilot
Buzz Aldrin and third astronaut Michael Collins. They deserved all of it.

Now Neil Armstrong is dead, his last important mission accomplished. That is the one
which commenced the minute he landed on Earth again after his famous walk-about. This
mission was doing nothing to tarnish, diminish or undermine what he and his colleagues
had achieved. Here again he did the necessary, being the perfect keeper of the flame and
a true hero, modest, unassuming, selfless; a man who was vividly and completely aware
of the great significance of his work, never needing to say so.

And so this son of Ohio lived out his days in Ohio and died in Ohio, at peace with himself,
his community, his professional colleagues, and his God who had, we know, shed His
grace on thee, the man whose single step on the moon signalled the giant leap for mankind.

Now the Eagle is ascending again, free to fly high and far. “There’s such a lot of world to see”,
and no one better to find it for the rest of us than Neil Armstrong, humanity’s guide into
the limitless Cosmos and its unequalled beauty and awe.

Musical Note. For the music to accompany this article, “Moon River,” go to any search
engine. Think of Neil Armstrong and all the star voyagers as you listen as you have never
listened before. The lyric words surely apply to them.

About the Author

Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc. at
www.worldprofit.com, providing a wide range of online services for
small and-home based businesses.

To see Dr. Lant’s blog go to www.jeffreylantarticles.com

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