I can’t let Neil Armstrong’s death pass by without paying tribute to a man who set so many standards, perhaps the greatest of which was his genuine humility in an age redolent with self-congratulatory high-fives for even the most trivial of accomplishments.
In the slightly more than 43 years since what he proclaimed as “…a small step for a man,” Armstrong steadfastly resisted all attempts to make him the center of attention for his accomplishments. According to him, he did his job, took a small bow in order to applaud the efforts of the thousands of people who did theirs, then stepped off the stage, opting to finish his career as a professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Cincinnati.
On July 21, 1969, I was stationed in Chu Lai Vietnam, an incredible 230,000 miles distant from where mankind was about to set foot. I had just finished suiting up for a mission in Laos when the group skipper called out to turn the volume up on the Armed Forces Radio Network broadcast. My wingman, already headed out the door, called back to me: “Come on, Asp [my callsign]; we’ll be late for our target time.”
“Forget that,” I responded. “The Ho Chi Minh Trail will still be there whenever we get to it,” knowing that this one instant when a man actually set foot on the moon for the first time would never come again, though its memory might last as long as humans allow themselves to dream.
So thank you, Neil Armstrong, engineer, naval aviator, test pilot, astronaut, and educator. Thank you, for what you did, but perhaps moreso for what you didn’t do. By allowing what is certainly the most amazing act of our lifetime to exist unspoiled by selfish pride, you have left a gift for all mankind to savor now and perhaps forever.