Locals recall Neil Armstrong’s lunar ‘leap for mankind’

Published 12:42 am Friday, August 31, 2012

Today, at every courthouse and government building across the nation, at every military and diplomatic installation across the globe, the American flag flies at half-staff in honor of the life of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon.
It happened on July 20, 1969, at 10:56 p.m. It was a Saturday night and over half a billion people back home on Earth watched from hundreds of thousands of miles away.
Though 43 years have passed since that night, many have clear memories of the event that would permanently change our concept of space flight and catapult the U.S. into a global leadership role in space exploration.
Beaufort County Commissioner Hood Richardson recalled watching the moon landing with his wife and sons, who were 4-, 6-, and 8-years old at the time. “There’s no question it was exciting. It was exciting when you think of the people who were to follow,” he said. “(Armstrong) was the first — a true American hero … He was a modern day Columbus.”
Sheriff Alan Jordan vividly remembers sitting in his grandmother’s living room in Vanceboro: “Sitting cross-legged on the floor, sitting right there watching it — I thought it was the neatest thing I’d ever seen in my life.”
At 9 years old, Jordan was fascinated by all things space: Star Trek, movies about space, G.I. Joe, the astronaut, who came with astronaut capsule and spacesuit. “I think astronauts intrigued me because in those days, in the ’60s, they were predominantly fighter pilots.”
Blount Rumley, administrator of the North Carolina Estuarium, along with a few friends, gathered to watch the event: “It was on a Saturday night. The timing was good for a good get-together. We turned the television on and it just sort of took over when it happened — the whole atmosphere changed.
“All conversation stopped … there was no cheering. Everyone was just glued to the television. There was nothing we could say,” he continued. “There was just silence, we just watched it because it was so much of a new thing for us.”
For Beaufort County attorney Billy Mayo, it was the importance of the occasion that he remembers clearly.
“I never thought it was going to happen — none of us did,” Mayo said. “An impossibility became a certainty.”
And Bill Booth, president of the Beaufort County branch of the NAACP, recalled a rainy day up in Westchester, N.Y., where he was visiting his grandparents for the summer. A rising senior at the time, Booth said he remembers the conspiracy theories surrounding the first landing on the moon.
“There were people saying, ‘Nah, they didn’t go to the moon. They’re just trying to make people believe that. They landed in the desert somewhere,’” Booth laughed.
“It was a rainy day, I remember being young. ‘I’m here being part of history being made’ — that’s what I was thinking.”
Though Armstrong made history with the first physical step on the moon, as well as his unforgettable statement, “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind,” Armstrong considered himself an aviator, as opposed to an astronaut, and once said to “60 Minutes” interviewer Ed Bradley, “I guess we all like to be recognized not for one piece of fireworks, but for the ledger of our daily work.”
While flags fly at half-staff today, the day of Armstrong’s funeral, six American flags will, presumably, continue to fly at full-staff: one erected by Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on July 20, 1969, and five others, one for each of the Apollo landings, in which American astronauts followed in Armstrong’s giant footsteps.