My first job in the news business was as a paperboy (I don’t remember any girls or adults carrying papers then) for the Columbus Citizen-Journal from 1968 to 1970. As I dreamed of someday being one of those journalists telling those historic stories on the front page each day, Neil Armstrong was my biggest story.
It was a newsy time with lots of stories about Vietnam, civil rights, LBJ, Richard Nixon, political conventions and the USS Pueblo. But Neil Armstrong’s historic walk on the moon with Buzz Aldrin was the story that riveted my attention. (I started carrying the paper after the two assassinations of 1968: Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy.)
Space exploration was the continuing story of my childhood: Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and U.S. astronaut Alan Shepard being the first to fly in 1961, John Glenn orbiting the earth Friendship 7 in 1962, Ed White making the first space walk in 1965, the fire that killed White, Gus Grissom and Roger Chafee in 1967, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders reading from Genesis aboard Apollo 8 on Christmas Eve 1968 as they circled the moon. I watched them with fascination on TV and read about them in the newspaper.
Once I got my paper route, I would read the paper at about 4:30 a.m., before I hopped on my bike to deliver the papers. If a space flight was approaching or under way, that would be the first story I would read.
When Apollo 11 took off for the historic first moon landing, I was riveted, charting its progress daily on Walter Cronkite‘s newscasts and in the pages of the Citizen-Journal and the afternoon Dispatch.
My parents had a reel-to-reel tape recorder, and I recorded the audio of the first moon landing and moonwalk: Armstrong’s simple call to Mission Control: “Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed,” and some six hours later his epic words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
For my Columbus newspaper, Armstrong was not just a national story, but an Ohio story. Neil was from the town of Wapakoneta. He was as humble a hero as America has had. Glenn went on to become a U.S. senator (I heard him speak at Ohio State University on Earth Day 1970, making his first run for Senate), run for president and return to space as an old man. Lovell’s terrifying Apollo 13 mission became a hit movie (with an amusing Armstrong scene).
If only all our heroes were as humble …