Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A giant leap for mankind that will never be forgotten

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It's more than a moment recorded in the dusty pages of history books.

It's a moment etched in our hearts and minds forever. If, like me, you are old enough to remember when Capt. Kirk and the crew of the Starship Enterprise first went where no man had gone before, you are old enough to remember where you were the moment it happened.

It was July 20, 1969, and I was a pudgy, sunburned 12-year-old kid, standing in the living room of a cheesy motel in Osoyoos, a blisteringly hot resort town in the B.C. interior.

It was our annual family vacation, and there I was, fresh from the lake, my soaking wet bathing suit dripping on the carpet, staring with laser-like intensity at grainy black-and-white images flickering out of a tiny TV set in the corner of the room.

As my family and about 500 million other Earthlings looked on with delight and a small measure of disbelief, a world away a modest man in a spacesuit clambered slowly down the ladder of a lunar module.

Then Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon and, even though most of us didn't realize it at the time, in many ways nothing would ever be the same again.

Moments after becoming the first human to set foot on the dusty surface of the moon, Armstrong uttered one of the most famous quotes in the English language: "That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind."

I have no recollection of what deep thoughts raced through my feverish 12-year-old brain at that exact moment, but it was probably something along the lines of "cool" or "neat," possibly even "groovy."

I was not the brightest light on the Christmas tree, but I'm pretty sure some part of me realized that, with a single step, it had become clear the impossible was now possible; that if we could dream it, we could do it. I vaguely recall celebrating this magical, Earth-shaking moment by casually sauntering back outside and jumping in the bathwater-warm lake.

Flash forward 43 years and there I was Saturday, parked in front of a TV, and a news flash scrawled along the bottom of the screen, announcing Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, was dead at 82 of complications following heart surgery.

In that instant, I was 12 years old again. Parked on the couch, I yelled the sad news to my wife, who, moments later, wandered into the den clutching a plush Snoopy doll clad, in commemoration of NASA's 50th anniversary, in a spacesuit and clear plastic space helmet. "Snoopy is very sad," my wife told me.

I reminded her of the time, years ago, when we had to drag our then six-year-old son to see his pediatrician, the much-loved and now departed Dr. Jack Armstrong.

"You remember Dr. Armstrong, don't you?" is what I asked my son as we buckled him in the car.

A huge smile split his tiny face. "I sure do, Dad," he chirped, "Dr. Armstrong was the first man on the moon!"

We didn't try to set him straight at the time, but eventually our boy figured it out on his own. I know Dr. Armstrong liked that story, and I'll bet Neil Armstrong would have been amused.

By all accounts, the man who turned my boyhood fantasy into reality was incredibly humble. In announcing his death, his family stressed his humility, writing:

"For those who may ask what they can do to honour Neil, we have a simple request. Honour his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink."

Sounds like a perfect tribute: One small wink for one giant of a man.

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 27, 2012 A2

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