Saying Farewell To A Hero

The Flag is folded over the cremains of Neil Armstrong
The Flag is folded over the cremains of Neil Armstrong

I’ve written about the US Space Program before on this blog, and having worked in support of it, I’m very passionate about our exploration of the final frontier. Therefore it should come as no surprise that one of my personal heroes was Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on an alien world. Armstrong was an outstanding leader, an amazingly-talented pilot, and a humble man who accomplished extraordinary feats. He also valued his privacy and kept his professional and personal life separated.

As for me, I’ve admired Neil Armstrong since I was a young boy and learned that man had landed on the moon. I  was instantly captivated by his feats and those of his colleagues. I wanted to be like him, and had it not been for Neil Armstrong, I would never have slogged through the four years of toil that it took to earn my engineering degree. Had it not been for him, I would not have chosen to join the Navy, instead following in the footsteps of my Uncle and Grandfather into the United States Air Force. But by my logic, if the Navy produced talented aviators like Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell, and Gene Cernan, then by God that’s where I wanted to learn how to fly.

And so the news a few months ago that Armstrong had passed away struck me terribly hard. But I felt an unusual sense of kinship when I learned of his request to be buried at sea. While a Naval Aviator serving in Korea, he had developed a love of the ocean, something I can certainly sympathize with. I too have come to love the sea with all of her mystery and her tempestuous nature. It was his final wish for his earthly remains to be committed to the deep and so a ship was chosen for the solemn duty of carrying him to sea one last time.

In a strange bit of kismet, the ship chosen happened to be the USS Philippine Sea stationed in the same place as I. The Norns didn’t stop there, weaving our paths to cross one final time. As I was participating in our morning physical training, I suddenly heard the whistle blasts  calling all hands topside to attention on all of the ships throughout the basin. Scant minutes later, I spied the Phil Sea, as she made her way towards to the breakers, her crew manning the rails dressed in their whites. I instantly realized what was happening and I stopped mid-stride. I came to the position of attention and stood stock-still as I watched my hero make way towards his final resting place. The cruiser soon passed and the whistle signal to carry on with assigned duties was blown and I returned to my run a bit older than I had been before.

One Small Step For Man. . .

A young Neil Armstrong sits on a panel upon the announcement of his selection into the Astronaut Corps.

Neil Armstrong died yesterday. When I learned of his passing, I  was near tears. Professor Armstrong served as an inspiration for me, alongside his peers Gene Cernan, Jim Lovell, and John Young. His skill as an aviator and expertise as an engineer were exceptional. He was also a man of unfathomable humility, who upon retiring from the space program, returned to his homestate of Ohio and began teaching engineering at the University of Cincinnati. He was never one to publicize himself and he valued his privacy highly. He was one-of-a-kind, and the world is truly a lesser place with his presence gone.

A few years before he passed, he testified before Congress along with Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon. In it, he made the case for a push by the government to support NASA and to create a coherent and bold strategy for the manned spaceflight program.

And this is Neil Armstrong’s legacy, as it should be. His actions on July 20, 1969 serve as inspiration to millions and have served as the motivation for countless millions, myself included, to act boldly and do what we can to make the world a better place and push humanity forward. And if there is anything we should do to honor his memory, it is to take bold action and take the next step in expanding the boundaries of human knowledge and discovery.