We lost a true American hero with the passing of Neil Armstrong.
Like most Americans in the 1960’s, I marveled at the accomplishments of the accomplishments of our space program. It was an era when America dared to dream big.
To me, there was no bigger hero at the time than Neil Armstrong.
Not a role model. A hero.
In 1969, he was probably the most famous man on the planet. What I always admired about Neil Armstrong was that he never wavered from his sense of service and duty, carrying himself with such complete humility and quiet dignity.
Despite his achievement for being the first man to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong never tried to cash in on his fame. Other than serve as a director on a couple of corporations, he quietly returned to his work as an engineering professor at the University of Cincinnati’s Department of Aerospace Engineering.
Can you imagine a celebrity or public figure today who would have emulated Armstrong’s graceful sense of integrity?
Even the Apollo 11 mission patch did not include the names of Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. I am sure as mission commander, Armstrong insisted that the credit for this journey did not belong to just the three of them, but the 400,000 NASA employees and contractors who worked on the space program.
Neil Armstrong was a quiet hero. He did not seek fame for what he volunteered to do. He never felt he deserved the celebrity status that the media (and the world for that matter) bestowed upon him for his Apollo 11 mission.
After Apollo 11, he lived his life quietly, except for the occasional public appearance to mark the Apollo 11 anniversary or to appear on a space documentary. My only wish was that Armstrong had done more of those “oral history” accounts so that future generations would know about the age of “American exceptionalism.” That concept seems, unfortunately, on its way out…but that’s the topic of another blog post.
When I heard the news over the weekend, I was saddened not only about Neil Armstrong’s passing, but the passage of time in which “heroes” are rarely part of our national vocabulary.
From the time he began his career as a U.S. Navy test pilot, Neil Armstrong strongly believed in a sense of duty and country. He lived his life dedicated to a cause bigger than himself. And he conducted himself and led his life with honor, while quietly inspiring countless millions of people around the world with his courage and achievements.
He was not a role model.
Neil Armstrong was a hero.
An exceptional American hero.