I really still don’t know how to put into words the sadness I felt when I heard of Neil Armstrong’s passing. I can write 5000+ words about a storage system, over 3000 about a single game, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to put into words what I felt and still feel.
People these days misuse and abuse the phrase ‘my hero.’ You know what a hero is? A “person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal”. Neil Armstrong has been my hero for pretty much my entire life. Often misquoted, Neil’s first words when he stepped on the moon were and have always been: “That’s one small step for “a” man, one giant leap for mankind.” Frankly, the grammar arguments are a pointless and stupid distraction. That’s what he said, and that’s what he meant.
He was just a man. The first man to set foot on another planet, but still just a man. He never pretended to be anything else. He never put on airs, pretended to be someone or something he wasn’t, or went seeking fame and glory. He didn’t go to the moon because he wanted to be famous. He did it because he earned a BS in aeronautical engineering from Purdue under the Holloway Plan. He went to the moon because it was the greatest engineering and technical challenge we had ever undertaken. He went to the moon not because of fame, not because of politics, but because he was the right man for the job.
Anyone who says Neil Armstrong was not the right man for the job, doesn’t know Neil Armstrong. He could have swapped Buzz Aldrin for fame-hound Lovell; he declined, saying that he felt Jim Lovell deserved his own command. He could have gone back to the moon. He could have had anything he wanted. Instead, he stepped aside so that others could shine.
Dozens, if not hundreds of companies sought Neil Armstrong as a spokesman – most failed. Chrysler succeeded because he believed they had a strong engineering division and wanted to help a company in financial difficulties. He never brought up the moon landing, he never brought up being an astronaut, and he became part of the research and development team.
To quote the man himself: “I’ve taken the position that, if the right situation came along, where I thought I could be of significant help .. and it would not jeopardize my honesty.” He was reputed to be a good businessman, but more importantly, an honest one.
He could have been famous; he could have parlayed that into a career in politics, in science, in anything at all he wanted. And that’s exactly what he did. He did what he wanted. When he was pressed by reporters about his lack of publicized appearances, he responded “[w]ell, I was pleased doing the things I was doing. That’s the sum and substance of it.”
He stopped giving autographs in 1994 when he found that people were selling them for large amounts of money and people were circulating forgeries. He sued Hallmark when they used his name without permission, and his barber when he tried to sell hair clippings. He settled both cases, refusing to accept any money for himself – every last cent went to charity.
He could have lived anywhere in the world. He could have made millions selling autographs and memorabilia. He could have had anything he wanted. Instead, he returned to Ohio. He lived quietly, privately, and modestly. He did what made him happy.
President Obama said he carried the aspirations of the entire United States on that fateful day in 1969; I refuse to accept that. Neil Armstrong was the living example of the aspirations, hopes, and dreams of the entire human race. He was the embodiment of the best our species has to offer. On July 21, 1969, he carried the hopes for every man, woman and child on this planet to the lunar surface. The flag he planted was American, but the footprints he left were for all mankind.
Space flight has never interested me, and probably never will. For me, it’s always been about the engineering challenges, thanks to him. The first computer system I properly engineered, I named “Eagle.” For Neil.
Neil Armstrong is my hero. He embodied all the qualities and ideals I aspire to myself. And he always will.