‘A collective sense of awe’ — readers recall Apollo 11

(FILES) In this file photo taken on July 21, 1969, a family in Paris watches as US astronaut Neil Armstrong commander of Apollo 11, sets his foot on the moon July 20, 1969 in Paris. (Photo by STR / AFP)STR/AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images/File
A family in Paris watches as Neil Armstrong sets his foot on the moon.

We asked readers to share their memories of the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing or offer their thoughts on what the mission has meant to them. Following is an edited sample of the more than 30 submissions we received:

From a bunker in Vietnam, the sky was a gleaming distraction

Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon was a memorable day, my 24th birthday. I lay on top of my bunker at LZ (landing zone) Buttons, in Phuoc Binh province, near the base of Nui Ba Ra in Vietnam, looking up at the big, bright full moon, hoping, but not expecting, to see something. We had no television, of course, so we could only imagine what was transpiring. It was a great distraction, even inspirational. What was being demonstrated was us at our best. What I was participating in was us at our worst.

The moon had a special connection between my future wife and me. It was the only thing we had in common that year, and frequently we looked up at the moon, wondering whether the other was also gazing at it.

That day, we probably were. We all were.

Robert Morrison


A rented TV in a cottage in Ontario


Every July, our family made the 12-hour drive from New York City to our summer island cottage in Ontario, Canada, where there was no phone, erratic electricity, and sporadic news from a huge Sony “portable” radio.

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I remember my parents excitedly discussing some event that was about to happen on the moon. As a teenager, I was beginning to worry that this self-imposed isolation from New York was having an abnormal effect on them.

Then, the unthinkable happened: My father rented a black-and-white TV set. It was a cube on a metal stand. The rabbit-ears antenna was connected with a wire coat hanger. We four children were under strict instructions not to touch. Ever.

And then “it” happened. Dad turned on the TV, fiddled with the coat hanger, and we waited. Walter Cronkite spoke. Then the famous image appeared. Words that will never be forgotten were spoken, and there was an American flag that was planted on the surface of the moon.

Before that day, I’d never seen my parents cry.


We kept the TV.

Gale Minot


Teens’ tour of Soviet Union became a good-will mission

I was a young reporter for the Hartford Courant. I actually watched the moon landing from a popular hangout for reporters next door to the paper, the Press Room.

My strongest memory, however, is the reaction from a group of Glastonbury High School students who had been on tour in the Soviet Union at the time. I dug out my story for this letter.

“I thought the reaction would be grudging,” said one student, “but it was very far from that. Everyone stopped us on the street and asked if we were Americans. They congratulated us for the feat. They felt it was a common achievement, that it belonged to everybody.”

“They were thrilled,” said another. “I didn’t meet one who wasn’t. There was a strong bond with everyone around us. It brought us together to be interested in the same thing. I personally feel that people are the same everywhere. We just don’t realize it until we’re brought face to face.”

“They were surprisingly gracious and very sweet about it,” said a third. “There was no sense of competition.”


As opposed to the current state of affairs.

Stuart Deane


One giant step

I had a healthy, active son who had just turned 18 months but had no interest in taking even one tentative step. We worried that he would be creeping to kindergarten. As I stood transfixed in front of the small black-and-white TV, watching the astronauts, one of my daughters suddenly cried, “Look!” There was Peter, walking across the room. Was he inspired by Neil Armstrong? Or by the fact that all attention was on the moon rather than on him? The two events are inextricable in my memory.

Stephanie Martin

Jamaica Plain

A massive ego trip that got us nowhere

The country seems to be caught up in a new wave of collective celebratory nostalgia over the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. I admit, I was excited when it happened, and I watched transfixed, in front of my grainy black-and-white TV. But in retrospect, I find little to celebrate.

To my mind, it was not a great step for mankind but rather a colossal, massively expensive ego trip that did nothing to advance the great issues faced by humans globally — hunger, injustice, oppression, political instability, perpetual war, the list goes on.

We are left with what? A few old machines resting in the dust of a dead planet and little to show for it. Who actually benefited? A handful of engineers, scientists, and politicians eager to show they can do something, anything, except solve real human problems.

Paul Wesel

Jamaica Plain

We no longer shoot for the stars

Why should we celebrate our great accomplishments of 50 years past? Instead, we should mourn that we cannot do such things today. Or we should go back to the moon, or on to Mars.

Ken Olum


‘Where are the Americans?’

A friend and I were traveling by train across Canada in July 1969, with no access to any media. We were the only Americans in a tour group to British Columbia. Somehow the train officials were receiving news of the moon landing, and upon each significant event, a cry would resound along the train: “Where are the Americans? The astronauts have reached the moon.” “Where are the Americans? The men are walking on the moon.”

Our Canadian friends kept us informed, and rejoiced with us, during this amazing time in our history.

Susan R. Rockwell


Watching in silence, in awe

In July 1969, I was a 17-year-old camp counselor at Camp Chimney Corners in the Berkshires. There was one television, located in the camp’s office. After the campers were asleep, the counselors and staff crammed into the office to watch the first moon walk. Because of the size of the crowd, I was relegated to standing outside, looking in at the TV through the window. I just remember the dead silence inside and outside the office and the collective sense of awe and amazement at what we were witnessing.

Linda Dudis


He remembers different landmarks

I was not one of the estimated 650 million people throughout the world who watched Apollo 11 landing on the moon. We were driving cross country from Massachusetts to California, and heard the landing on the truck radio. We were on Interstate 40 west, between Elk City, Okla., and Sayre, Okla. For some reason, those towns have been ingrained in my memory to this day.

Dean Contover


Great-grandmother had seen it all

As a 16-year-old high school junior, I gathered with my entire family in front of the TV to watch Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon. With us that night was my 99-year-old great-grandmother. Throughout the evening she marveled at the technological achievements that had occurred throughout her lifetime: the light bulb, community electrification, indoor plumbing, the telephone, the automobile, the airplane.

As Neil Armstrong descended from the Eagle’s ladder, she remarked that this was indeed the greatest achievement ever. And then, with a twinkle in her eye, she added, “With the exception of the indoor toilet.”

I will remember that night not only for the achievement that was accomplished but also for being able to spend it with a person who had lived her life through such an incredible period of perseverance and invention.

David Shaffer

West Roxbury