Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Tale Of Two Armstrongs

It was very odd to hear of the death of Neil Armstrong. He died Saturday, when I was at home all day alone. It was dark and gloomy outside, when the man on the television said that the first man to ever walk on the moon had passed away at the age of 82. He was about my Mom's age. When I  heard the news it took me back to the parsonage in Elmont, Virginia, where we all gathered around that RCA black and white  with the tin foil wrapped around the tips of the rabbit ears. I remember it being a Sunday, and I remember it being terribly hot. Maybe our window air conditioner unit was broken or something, but it was hot and muggy, but there we all were staring dumbfounded at the snowy screen. A man was walking down the stairs of the space ship seemingly in slow motion. The hot crackle of the transmission from the moon shot through our living room. As an eleven year old boy I remember worrying that the surface of the place might reach up and grab his foot and drag him into the moon dust like so much quick sand. But there he was with both moon boots firmly planted as he said..."that's one small step for man...and one giant leap for mankind."

It was only much later that I learned that he had gotten his pilot's license at age 16, and that he had flown 20 combat missions in Korea. I found out that he had been one of those crazy test pilots and had nearly been killed a bunch of times flying experimental rocket planes with Chuck Yeager. Much later I discovered that although both political parties had approached him after his Apollo glory trying to get him to run for office, he had turned them both down. There was much to admire about him as a grown man, but for an eleven year old boy, he was just the bravest man in the world. And now, he too is gone. Just like my Mother, two months ago tomorrow morning.

That same Saturday there was another Armstrong in the news, Lance. Something about him dropping out of the arbitration battle with some Anti-Doping organization. It was being interpreted as a tacit admission of guilt that would result in all seven of his Tour De France titles being stripped from him. So the greatest cyclist in history may have been a cheat and a fraud. The guy survived cancer and has raised a ton of money to fight the disease. But now, he was walking away from the battle to clear his name. I don't know enough about the story to know what the truth is. All I do know is...if I were innocent and somebody was trying to ruin my life's work, I sure wouldn't quit and walk away. I'm positive that Neil Armstrong wouldn't either

Rest in peace, Mr. Armstrong.