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First moon landing in 1969
marked an entire generation

This page was last modified on 20 April 2012.

Contents


Published 18 July 1999 in the News & Record (Greensboro, NC), pp. H1, H6

First moon landing in 1969 marked an entire generation

by Matt Wallace

In July of 1969, I was 8 years old. My parents, younger sister, and I were spending our first summer in our new house, which we had moved into the previous April. Though I lack any specific memories, I suppose I was enjoying a typical child's summer filled with swings and bicycles, lemonade and watermelon, fireflies and hide-and-seek. And there was the moon, which was why this was no typical child's summer.

I had taken to science early and was enthralled with the space program. I watched every launch I could as well as the related coverage. What boy ever could resist rocket ships, space men and alien worlds, but what had been science fiction for my parents was science fact for me. My parents had Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon and Buzz Corry; I had Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin.

I followed Apollo 11, beginning with liftoff on the morning of July 16 when the mighty Saturn V rocket, the most powerful machine yet constructed by human beings, propelled the three astronauts on their way into history. I watched the coverage of the trip to the moon until finally, in the afternoon of July 20, Armstrong and Aldrin landed their lunar module, the Eagle, on the lunar surface.

Being children, my sister and I had gone to bed earlier on that momentous evening of July 20, 1969. We were roused from our slumbers by our parents who excitedly exhorted us to wake up to see the first moon walk. Their enthusiasm woke me better than a cup of coffee does now.

We quickly made our way to the den to watch the historic event unfold on our television.

As we were sitting on our couch waiting for Armstrong to exit the Eagle, I looked up at our old mantle clock though now I couldn't tell you what time it read.

This clock was wound with a big brass key and regulated with a pendulum, had a Roman numeral face, and chimed once on the half-hour and once for each of the number of hours at the top of the hour. My father had inherited this clock from his maternal grandmother who had bought it new in the 1890s. As an adult, I now appreciate the irony of checking the time of these lunar activities on a timepiece that not only was dependent on Earth's gravity to function properly but which was manufactured in the decade preceding the Wright brothers' first flight at Kitty Hawk!

I sat transfixed as I watched the grainy image of Armstrong ponderously making his way down the Eagle's ladder to the footpad. Humans had become a space-faring species, and the moon had become a place.

I don't recall watching much more of the moon walk; I was young and surely sleepy, and the rest was anticlimactic, so I probably went back to bed. I watched Armstrong and Aldrin leave the moon the following day to rejoin Collins in the Columbia for the journey home. I continued to follow the mission's progress through to splashdown in the Pacific on July 24 which ended eight of the most extraordinary days in human experience and in the life of one 8-year-old boy.

Demographers define the Baby Boom generation as those Americans born between 1946 and 1964 inclusive. By my personal definition, a Baby Boomer is an American born after World War II who remembers the Apollo 11 moon landing.

For those of us who were between kindergarten and college, Apollo 11 was the biggest thing that had ever happened in our lives.

Apollo 11 marked our lives just as the Great Depression and the Second World War had marked our parents' and grandparents' lives. We were the last generation to have been born prior to humans becoming a space-faring species; we were the first generation to come of age as members of that space-faring species.

For the children of Apollo and the generations that follow, this little blue planet is but our cradle, and our destiny lies in the stars.

Matt Wallace lives in Greensboro.

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Original unedited column as submitted to the News & Record (Greensboro, NC)

First moon landing marked a generation

by Matt Wallace

In July of 1969, I was 8 years old. My parents, younger sister, and I were spending our first summer in the new house that we had moved into the previous April. Though I lack any specific memories, I suppose I was enjoying a typical child's summer filled with swings and bicycles, lemonade and watermelon, fireflies and hide-and-seek. And there was the Moon which was why this was no typical child's summer.

I had taken to science early and was enthralled with the space program. I watched every launch I could as well as the related coverage. What boy ever could resist rocket ships, space men, and alien worlds, but what had been science fiction for my parents was science fact for me. My parents had Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, and Buzz Corry; I had Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin.

I followed Apollo 11 beginning with liftoff on the morning of July 16 when the mighty Saturn V rocket, the most powerful machine yet constructed by human beings, propelled the three astronauts on their way into history. I watched the coverage of the trip to the Moon until finally, in the afternoon of July 20, Armstrong and Aldrin landed their lunar module, the Eagle, on the lunar surface. Armstrong confirmed the successful arrival of the first humans on another planetary body with the famous words "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."

Being children, my sister and I had gone to bed earlier on that momentous evening of July 20, 1969. We were roused from our slumbers by our parents who excitedly exhorted us to wake up to see the first Moon walk. Their enthusiasm woke me better than a cup of coffee does now. We quickly made our way to the den to watch the historic event unfold on our television.

As we were sitting on our couch waiting for Armstrong to exit the Eagle, I looked up at our old mantle clock though now I couldn't tell you what time it read. This clock was wound with a big brass key and regulated with a pendulum, had a Roman numeral face with "4" rendered as the classic "IIII," and chimed once on the half-hour and once for each of the number of hours at the top of the hour. My father had inherited this clock from his maternal grandmother who had bought it new in the 1890s. As an adult, I now appreciate the irony of checking the time of these lunar activities on a timepiece that was not only dependent on Earth's gravity to function properly but which was manufactured in the decade preceding the Wright brothers' first flight at Kitty Hawk!

I sat transfixed as I watched the grainy image of Armstrong ponderously making his way down the Eagle's ladder to the footpad. After a slight hesitation, he stepped onto the Moon's surface and uttered the immortal words, "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." Humans had become a spacefaring species, and the Moon had become a place.

I don't recall watching much more of the Moon walk; I was young and surely sleepy, and the rest was anticlimactic, so I probably went back to bed. I watched Armstrong and Aldrin leave the Moon the following day to rejoin Collins in the Columbia for the journey home. I continued to follow the mission's progress through to splashdown in the Pacific on July 24 which ended 8 of the most extraordinary days in human experience and the life of one 8-year-old boy.

Demographers define the Baby Boom generation as those Americans born between 1946 and 1964 inclusive. By my personal definition, a Baby Boomer is an American born after World War II who remembers the Apollo 11 moon landing. For those of us who were between kindergarten and college, Apollo 11 was the biggest thing that had ever happened in our lives.

Apollo 11 marked our lives just as the Great Depression and the Second World War had marked our parents' and grandparents' lives. We were the last generation to have been born prior to humans becoming a spacefaring species; we were the first generation to come of age as members of that spacefaring species. For the children of Apollo and the generations that follow, this little blue planet is but our cradle, and our destiny lies in the stars.

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Column Background

Back in 1994, I had considered writing and submitting a guest column on my reminiscences of the Apollo 11 Moon landing on its 25th anniversary. I finally got my opportunity to write this column when the News & Record, as part of its "Your Voices" feature where readers are invited to write on a specific topic, called on readers to submit their memories and thoughts of the historic event on its 30th anniversary. Submissions were subject to a maximum of 750 words and were due by 12 July.

True to my nature, I procrastinated until 12 July. I typed the first draft in the afternoon and got to almost 750 words seemingly effortlessly. I printed a copy and broke for dinner. After dinner, I read through what I had. After correcting various errors, I was fairly pleased with the column. I waited a couple of hours before reading it again. I was still comfortable with the column as written, so I e-mailed it as midnight was fast approaching.

The next morning, a representative of the editorial department called to verify my submission and to schedule a photo session for a mug shot to accompany my byline. On Sunday, 18 July, the News & Record printed my column and two others. Though my piece had been edited down to about 700 words, it was still the longest. On 20 July, eight shorter pieces were printed as letters to the editor (maximum length 250 words) in a dedicated letters section.

I rather enjoyed seeing my byline again after almost six years.

On 21 July, as a completely unexpected and most pleasant bonus, I received a copy of Full Moon from the News & Record courtesy of Elma Sabo, Ideas/Book Editor. On the back of her business card, she very flatteringly wrote, "A little gift -- because you wrote the best essay." The only problem I had with this gift was that the United States Postal Service managed to bang up both the front and the back covers on the opening edge through a bubble-wrap envelope!

Full Moon bookcover
Full Moon bookcover
(Dimensions: 1.01" x 11.68" x 11.73")
Front of Elma Sabo's business card
Elma Sabo's business card with her
complimentary remarks
Back of Elma Sabo's business card
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E-mail to The Compleat Heretic

From: George Wallace <george.wallace@teligent.com>
Subject: RE: New column posted to web site
Date: Wed, 21 Jul 1999 13:05:34 -0400

This is a nice article.


From: Kathleen Johnson <Milatheist@aol.com>
Subject: Re: New column posted to web site
Date: Wed, 21 Jul 1999 19:45:38 EDT

Congrats. How neat :-)


From: Karen Brauer <kbrauer@one.net>
Organization: Hoosier Pharmer
Subject: Re: New column posted to web site
Date: Wed, 21 Jul 1999 19:09:29 -0500

Cool!! And don'tcha know it!! Most boomers have no clue what a big, huge deal this still is!!! Turds have gutted the space program, forgetting that it is the most important aspect of our future as a species.

I was 10 for this event. My father purchased a little bitty TV for us to take on our vacation across the USA. Only reason he got it was because he wanted to be able to plug that thang into the cigarette lighter so we could watch that landing and moonwalk. We were at a rest stop, I believe in Wisconsin. The boob tube was on our car and two parents plus 5 kids were were glued to it.

You are talking to a Trek weanling. I became a Trekkie at age 7. Used to beg to be allowed to stay up and watch that show. The new stuff does not hold a candle to the original: cheesy special effects, but deeper stories, usually.

My father made his living in defense/satellite communications. His radios were on the Apollo moon missions, on the lunar landing modules. One of his radios saved some astronauts' bunz during the Apollo 13 mission. Didn't need to make that radio strong enough to transmit all the way to earth, but ol Fritz is pretty anal retentive......

Phun to brag about him....can't help myself . Hope to do something significant when I grow up too ;-)

Write some more!!!!!!!


From: Pradeep Navaratnam <pradeep@canada.com>
Date: Wed, 21 Jul 1999 20:58:28 -0400 (EDT)

I have to commend you for that excellent article regarding the moon landing. It certainly must have been a defining moment for those who watched history in the making in 1969.


From: Tom Anderson
Subject: Re: New column posted to web site
Date: Thu, 22 Jul 1999 11:30:19 -0400

Excellent article. I was born after the moon landing, so I have no memories of it at all, just old television footage. In fact, my childhood memory of space travel, unfortunately, was the Challenger explosion. I was a "Young Astronaut" at the time, so I was very interested and involved in space travel. What sucks is that between that event and the end of the Cold War, U.S. space travel all but came to a standstill. It kind of crushed my dreams a bit. So, now I'm a programmer instead of an astronaut. I figure at least this way I can earn billions of dollars and then start my own space program!


From: Peter Barber <Barber@t-online.de>
Subject: Re: New column posted to web site
Date: Sat, 24 Jul 1999 13:33:59 +0200

I remember well the first moon landing. I was lying on my cot in a hooch provided for me and the other Army Aviators of Alpha Company, 227th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 11th Aviation Group, 1st Cavalry Division in Lai Kae, Vietnam. Our collective comment was "So I'll bet it's not a hot LZ."

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Additional Apollo 11 Moon Landing 30th Anniversary Links

30th anniversary of Apollo 11: 1969-1999 NASA Apollo 11 30th Anniversary
The Official 30th Anniversary web site from the History Office of NASA Headquarters

30th anniversary of Apollo 11: 1969-1999
An Apollo 11 mission photo journal from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center with links to 30th anniversary sites at other NASA branches and elsewhere

Where Were You July 20, 1969?
Would you like to tell your Apollo 11 story? This site is collecting brief stories from a variety of perspectives for possible publication in a book. They won't pay you for it, but you could see your story and name in print for posterity.
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