Neil Armstrong: Memory Eternal

Neil Armstrong (Click to enlarge)

Like most of you, I heard yesterday that Neil Armstrong died due to complications from heart surgery. He was 82 and had live a long and productive life. We all know what he did –being the first man on the moon–and those immortal words he spoke as he first stepped off the lunar lander, Eagle.

I’d like to talk about what Armstrong and his kind meant to our civilization. Born in Ohio in 1930, he was too young to enter the Second World War, the defining event of The Greatest Generation. He later joined the Navy and flew some eighty combat missions in Korea, losing only plane when he had to eject because it had been felled by ground fire.

He didn’t want to leave the Navy but duty called him to Houston in 1962 to be part of the Mercury Program. Sputnik had changed the Cold War math in a big way, to our detriment. For the first time, it became evident that the Soviets were winning the Space Race. (Ironically, it’s possible that despite the Apollo mission interlude, the Russians have regained the advantage.) Our handsome, martyred President gave us our marching orders in 1962: we were to go to the moon and come back safely before “decade was out.”

Because we were a confident nation, we put our mind to it. And we did it. By God did we do it.

When he, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, and Michael Collins blasted off into space on July 16, 1969, we were witnessing something that had never been attempted in the past. And when they landed on Sunday, July 20th, the feast of the Prophet Elijah, we knew that the world would never be the same.

I’ll never forget that summer’s day. I was ten years old and we had the traditional large, clunky, black-and-white television on. We had been to church and had eaten our Sunday dinner. As several of our relatives lived nearby, everybody came over to our house. It was part of our lazy, Sunday ritual. My cousins and I kept going outside to see if we could see it with our own eyes. For some reason, I think it was 4 or 5 o’clock and the moon was rising in the west (or so I remember it).

Our parents probably laughed at us but all I remembered seeing was my grandfather getting emotional. This was a man who was born in 1897, on a small island in Greece. For all practical purposes, he might as well have been born in the Middle Ages. No electricity, no running water, no internal combustion engine. Upon his birth he had no reason to excpect anything than what every one of his ancestors had experienced going back a hundred generations.

The excitement was palpable to say the least.

Years later I found out that before leaving the lunar lander, Armstrong and Aldrin had opened a kit that contained Holy Communion and partook of the divine mysteries. This seems to me now to be appropriate. I remember my dad saying that this was the day that Elijah went to heaven on a fiery chariot and that this is the reason that NASA chose this date. Even then that seemed unlikely to me. Now, I’m not so sure.

Anyway, I think we should commiserate a little about what NASA achieved. This was a time in which there were no hand-held calculators, no PCs or Macs, nothing but slide-rules. The computers that NASA had were Univacs that were half the size of a typical eighteen wheeler. And yet, they –we–did it.

Why? Because America was still a vigorous nation, brimming with self-confidence. Yes, we were in the middle of a squalid war; yes, several of our cities had erupted in race riots. America wasn’t perfect. But no nation is. The toxic cultural Marxism of political correctness had not yet destroyed our institutions of higher learning or our mainline denominations. Feminism had not yet destroyed the family unit. Dependency had not yet taken hold of great swaths of our population. The blight of multiculturalism –the destroyer of Christian civilization–had not drained us of our life’s blood.

Could we pull this off again? I doubt it. We’re not the same people as we were then. If it was known that our astronauts were going to take a Communion kit aboard the ACLU and its Bolshevist ilk would be screaming bloody murder.

As for the man himself, probably one of the most significant figures of the twenthieth century, he remained unassuming and modest. Unlike the tens of thousands of media whores who inhabit our airwaves and are given contracts simply because they were given a DUI or made a sex tape, Armstrong remained reticent. America used to be full of men such as this, particularly in the Midwest. You got up, went to work, helped your neighbor when he needed it, and went home to the family. This was normal and America was filled with millions of normal men like this who sought no attention for themselves. Gary Coopers, not Puff Daddies. We’ve lost a lot.

This is all so regrettable. But at least for today we can remember what it was like to live in a Golden Age. Those of us over 45 or so have a duty to transmit this knowledge to the younger generation. Not just the achievement but the remembrance that at one time, America was full of men like Armstrong.

In the meantime, say a prayer for the repose of the soul of Neil Armstrong. He was a Gary Cooper, a Jimmy Stewart, an exemplar of what it meant to be an American at one time. And he deserves it.


  1. Reader John says

    Well said. It is sad to know that the America we grew up in is no longer here. Those that were not part of it will never know the joy and excitement of living in that time. God grant rest to Neil.

  2. I remember watching Mr Armstrong set foot on the moon. I was sixteen years old, squatting on the floor of a dark room, watching on a borrowed black and white TV set. The room was the iconography workshop of Father Kiprian and Fr Alipy in the old seminary building at the Monastery of the Holy Trinity in Jordanvile, NY. With me were a few seminarians, some monks, and the Abbot, Archbishop Averky. I will never forget the look of child like wonder on his face.

  3. Pat Teague says

    I have been remembering mankind’s first Moon landing since hearing of Neil Armstrong’s death. That evening, my fiancee (now wife of 42 years) and I were in my parents’ den with my sister, brothers, and parents. We were all just glued to the TV. “One small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.”

    My great grandmother was born in 1885 and was living with my mother’s parents. My thoughts turned to her. She came to Oklahoma as a “Boomer,” an original white settler in the Cherokee land run. Grandma saw man travel by horse, then train, automobile, airplane, jet, and now rocket to the Moon.

    What a life. What an opportunity to have lived in the greatest counrty in the history of mankind.

  4. Lil Ole Housewife says

    Dear Monomakhos,

    I, too , remember like yesterday the flights of Neil Armstrong. Even his test pilot flights got press back in the day. And I have met him .

    He was not Orthodox. And, despite rumors, he did not convert to Islam. You might take a look at what hisk mother is recorded as saying, listed in the Wikipedia article about him:


    ^ James R. Hansen (2005). First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong. Simon and Schuster. p. 35. ISBN 9780743281713. “[Neil Armstrong’s mother] wrote on October 27, 1969, to a Methodist minister in Iowa … “but when he was a senior in high school, and even more in college, he began wondering about the truth of Jesus Christ. I felt sure he was praying less…. [Today] he is not teaching his own two fine sons about Jesus Christ. This fact causes a million swords to be pierced through my heart constantly.””

  5. First of all: Memory Eternal! May God remember him in His kingdom.

    Secondly: George, you are quite wrong about the reasons why such great feats like the Moon landing are not being repeated today. It is not because of any change in the culture of the nation, or because of insidious Marxists or feminists or multiculturalists or what-have-you. It’s certainly not because of what has been happening to the family unit (how, exactly, does that have anything to do with the space program?). No, the reason why we managed to go to the Moon in 1969 and can’t do it again today is much simpler:

    The government funded NASA very generously back then, and now it doesn’t.

    Have a look at this graph, showing the NASA budget as a percentage of total federal spending across its history (the same data can be found on numerous websites – just google terms like “NASA budget”):

    We would do well to remember that the Moon landing – and in fact everything we ever did in space – was always a government-funded project. Present-day Republicans would probably call it “socialism” if they lived back then.