WASHINGTON – Neil Alden Armstrong, who died unexpectedly Saturday (Aug. 25) from complications following heart bypass surgery, was largely misunderstood.
I should know, having added to the myth that Armstrong was a recluse by writing this too-clever-by-half story lead.
In truth, the first human to walk on the Moon did all that was asked of him by his country while striving to preserve some semblance of a private life. Clowns like me would be pestering him constantly for interviews to talk about himself, something Neil Armstrong simply did not care to do. After walking on the Moon in July 1969, everyone, it seemed, wanted a piece of Neil Armstrong. After returning from overseas several years back, Armstrong’s signed customs declaration ended up for sale on eBay.
Uninterested in a self-promotion, the aeronautical engineer and first-rate test pilot understood that he was part of a technological continuum, and had happened along at precisely the right time (1930) and place (Ohio, a cradle of aviation and aerospace research).
Neil Armstrong’s public addresses were always laced with references to the giants of aviation and rocketry on whose shoulders he stood: the Wright Brothers, Robert Goddard, Yuri Gagarin.
Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong's spacesuit was preserved in a warehouse in suburban Maryland before being moved recently to a permanent display at the Air & Space Museum Annex in Northern Virginia (Photo credit: George Leopold)
How does one get on with a normal life having just set his left foot on another heavenly body, then looked up to see the whole circle of the Earth? This was Armstrong’s burden, and he carried it always with grace and dignity.