Reactions to the Life and Death of Neil Armstrong

I was born in 1971, so I didn’t get to see Neil Armstrong announce that “the Eagle has landed” until I was nine years old.  It’s funny, because this was years after the original landing on July 20, 1969, but like so many people, I remember where I was when I watch the Eagle land and Armstrong utter his famous line, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” 

It was a spring day, and I was sitting at my desk in Ms. Labor’s class.  She was the teacher of our split 4th grade-5th grade G&T class at Hillcrest Elementary School in Catonsville, Maryland.  Watching a movie was a special treat, even better than listening to Ms. Labor, with her deep alto voice, read to us from some thick novel like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Anyway, the entire class sat there, spellbound, as the black and white images celebrating science, ingenuity and bravery unwound before us.  But the movie was not just about the actual landing.  We were gifted kids, after all, and Ms. Labor taught us to think critically.  What followed the landing on the video was the public reaction to it, and believe it or not, a significant minority of commentators dismissed the landing as a military-industrial conspiracy, hogwash or an example of man’s atheistic hubris.

Burned in my memory is this clip of this red-faced man from Dundalk, which is a working class, immigrant neighborhood that houses factories, check-cashing places and porn shops right next to Baltimore.  This guy sat there, puffing on a cigar, and in this nasal accent that felt like fingers dragging on a chalkboard, he held a thick piece of steak up to the camera.  It was hard to understand what he was saying because of his low-class speech patterns that reminded me of Eliza and her father from George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, but the gist of it was that the government had taken video of a ribeye steak and passed it off as the moon.  Kind of like Star Trek’s Enterprise, you know?

All of us were shocked by his ignorance.  And from this segment of the movie, I took with me a lifelong lesson about the importance of logical thinking.  As a corollary to this, I received a glimpse into the uneducated and ignorant common folks who simply could not comprehend or accept scientific achievement or the human ability to conquer the impossible.  Hopefully, this sort of ignorance would go away by the time my generation was Ms. Labor’s age.

Fast-forward to yesterday.  Neil Armstrong, at 82, passed away into the next frontier.  To celebrate his life, I created a poster based on the Armstrong family’s wishes that we “wink at the moon” in homage to Neil, and as of the moment I’m hitting the publish button, it has been shared more than 2,500 times on Facebook.  I’m happy that it’s getting shared this much; really, I am.  This is the right way to grow—by celebrating heroism, scientific achievement and human greatness.  And the vast majority of fans, friends and followers have responded with kindness and respect, which is how we’re taught to act when someone dies.

And while I have been cheered by the majority’s take on Armstrong’s death, a still-significant minority has reacted like this:

Sorry, but I don’t get why I should thank Neil Armstrong for the moon? That’s a rediculous [sic] statement.
I think it’s awesome that he went to the moon, but that is completely independent of appreciating the moon itself. –Ramsey R.

I didn’t respond to this statement, because it’s plain boorish, and as my Facebook Page has grown, I’ve seen more and more of this sort of ignorant and unpleasantness.  Or one on the other pages that shared my poster, Bedeempled Brain, a woman named Lisa K. wrote the following:

Next time you gaze at the moon please give thanks to GOD because he created such beauty. Besides that its [sic] not true that men went to the moon. Wake up people and use your brain!

And then a woman named Kazza T. added:

Yes amen Lisa, God did make the moon and all other things seen and unseen. We can’t really be certain that they did walk on the moon. There is [sic] so much lies and deception in this world. My condolences to Mr. Armstrong’s family and friends.

At least Lisa offered her condolences to the Armstrong clan.

What’s my take on this?  I always think of Alexander Hamilton’s quote, “Your people, sir, is a great beast” in times like these, but I refuse to let the minority of cranks and ignorant, uncritical thinkers, not to mention haters of the good, to ruin my happiness or steal my joy.  I will not give credence to conspiracy theorists or even try to argue with their claims that we never walked on the moon.  You can’t reason with fools.  What I will do is to honor the greatness of one man, who acted on behalf of all humanity, one summer day so many years ago.

And tonight when I finish my long run as darkness settles on this great Earth, I will recall the following message from Armstrong’s family:

“For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor 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.”



23 comments on “Reactions to the Life and Death of Neil Armstrong
  1. k8edid says:

    He was a true role model. A pioneer. I’ll be winking.

  2. I’m winking..don’t worry El. I think there are more people that agree with you than disagree with you. What a beautiful tribute to an amazing man! xoxo Ella

  3. Elyse says:

    Lovely tribute El. Sadly, though, we aren’t back on the moon, or on Mars or beyond.

  4. I never learned how to wink properly, so I will simply close my eyes and say a thank you. This was wonderfully done and I love your poster. Me, personally I always thought the conspiracy that we did not walk on the moon, I thought those people didn’t have enough vitamins in their diet and their brains simply didn’t fully form. That could be the only explanation.

  5. We were there. We will go there and beyond again. What is there if not more to learn and see. I live my life hoping to be awed.

  6. Sandy Boyer says:

    I was in first grade in1961 when Neil Armstron walked on the moon. My dad loved for me to read the paper to him after dinner. I would sit on his lap and it was our time. Just us. I would read the top stories while he listened and helped me with some of the tougher words. I was reading at a fifth grade level in first grade he used to tell anyone who would listen! I remember my dad was thrilled when they landed. Afterwards, all of us (7) went outside and looked at the moon together.

  7. dmmacilroy says:

    Dear El,

    I remember as though it was yesterday staying up late at home in New Jersey and watching the entire long moon landing, start to finish, on our black and white television. Heady times for a teenager who had sat in successive classrooms watching Mercury, Gemini and Apollo launches since 1961. We had finally made it to the moon!

    Since then we have squandered what was earned through hard word and pluck and the enthusiasm of a nation. Since then we have dumbed down the populace and gutted the NASA budget in the name of political expediency while diverting the money into social programs that breed little more than complacency and an ever increasing supply of people growing up with a feeling that the world owes them something. I wrote a story for Madison Woods’ FridayFictioneers that you may remember ( ) I’m sad for our country when I imagine where we could be now as opposed to this Idiocracy we now are citizens of.

    You are right not to get into an argument with a fool for you might be confused for one yourself. People who believe men have not landed on the moon have bought into that whole sad thread of ‘facts’ and delusions because defending them, arguing for the negative, makes them a part of something (What that might be, I’m not sure. Perhaps they get free membership in the Flat Earth Society. Who knows?) larger than themselves. It garners them attention they certainly would not receive otherwise except perhaps for the mention that they’ll get in The Darwin Files when their dim-witted selves finally cash in their chips.

    I thought your tribute to Neil Armstrong was beautiful and heartfelt. Thank you.



    • Dear Doug,

      As usual, your note made me smile and think. I agree that we’ve squandered the NASA budget in the “name of political expediency while diverting the money into social programs that breed little more than complacency and an ever increasing supply of people growing up with a feeling that the world owes them something.” Amen, brother. I too am sad for our country and tonight, for some reason, this sadness is hitting me. Maybe it’s because of another political discussion I got into this afternoon. I told a liberal that the Democratic party was drifting toward socialism, and she replied, “Yes, but what about the subsidies the Republican party gives to oil companies, the banking industry, etc.?” I tried to explain that I opposed those as well . . . but the conversation drifted into an attack on the rich and upper classes and I got bored.

      Sigh. We need to focus on progress, and on breaking through to the next frontier. My husband (a lawyer and history major like me) is reading a book about Manifest Destiny, and it really strikes me that it is in our character to explore. I find this on my runs: the best runs or rambling walks are when I’m out exploring new territory. It makes me excited, as if I were an adventurer or a pioneer. If we as a people are going to invest in anything, it must be the future, on bold adventures. And I hope it won’t take another world war or other mass disaster to unite us and help us direct our focus on creating new beginnings.



  8. Winking and thinking!

    I remember so clearly when Neil walked on the moon. It was a very big deal in my family. We were living in Houston at the time and my father worked at Grumman as a design engineer. He was honored and thrilled to be part of the design team for that historical event. He designed a piece of the frame for the life-support backpack the astronauts wore. If nobody went to the moon, took a walk and planted the US flag they sure pulled the wool over my Dad’s eyes. Hahahaha, I think not. He was a brilliant man, not easily misled.

    After all was said and done my Pops managed to wangle permission from the powers that be to take me and my brothers on a tour of the command centre. When he flipped the switch for the overhead lights and the control room became illuminated it literally took my breath away. I think I was 11 years old. I don’t remember being THAT impressed ever again.
    So yes, I honor Neil Armstrong and his accomplishments. Like my brother Rick said on his page when answering a doubter as to why Armstrong never spoke publically about his mission, “He didn’t speak about it because he was truly just a humble engineer” who did not want to claim ownership of an accomplishment that took a whole team to pull off.

    Rest In Peace Neil Armstrong…you now see the moon from an entirely different perspective ♥

    • Serena: oh cool!!! Houston and your Dad worked at Grumman! Mine worked at Westinghouse–worked on the radar. My father-in-law worked on the quarantine unit.

      Ooooo–so cool that you got to see the command centre!!

      Amen to what your bro Rick said: Neil really was a humble man.

      Thanks so much for your note my friend!! xo

  9. Boomdeeadda says:

    You just have to ignore the Haters, enjoyed your post today.

  10. lucindalines says:

    It is really scary to be living in a time when education is so disdained. That the science that put Neil and the others on the moon that day in 1969 should be reduced to a conspiracy theory is, well, just ignorant, and spoken by ignorant people. I am scared for the future of this country that we have so many people who are this ignorant, want to stay this ignorant and are promoting it as truth. This is not what the founding fathers and the frontier people risked their lives for. Oh how do we get past this? I don’t see it happening in the next election no matter what the outcome.

  11. I lived in NYC through September 11th. A year later, I moved to San Diego CA for grad school. I met someone at school who told me 9-11 was a hoax. That it didn’t happen. I explained that I saw it “happen.” But he absolutely stuck to his insane belief that it was made up. Some people just have to remain in their caves and be stupid. I get that people don’t trust the media but the guy could have flown to NY and seen the devastation. He chose to just stick his head in the sand and pretend it away.

    Neil Armstrong was an amazing person who did something no one thought was possible. He didn’t invent the moon, but he walked on it. Who else can say that?

    • I had a close friend who got on the phone with me a little bit after 9/11. I lived through it too (I worked next to the White House and my husband worked across the river from the Pentagon). We watched it burn, you know? So when this friend told me it was one big conspiracy, I was furious. So I hear you. Thank you so much, my friend.

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