The Post-Star asked readers for their own memories of man walking on the moon 50 years ago. Here is a response from four different readers.
During the summer of 1969, I was a young enlisted recruit in training at the United States Marine Corps Basic Training Depot in Parris Island, South Carolina.
Every long day of training was exhausting. We’d hit the sack at about 8 p.m. and then repeat the same routine day after day, until you were eventually molded into a U.S. Marine.
There was no such thing as “liberty” during basic training, no free time to read, certainly no radios or televisions. During the 8 to 10 weeks of basic training, all you needed to know was what your drill instructor told you.
On the evening of July 20, 1969, well after taps and lights out, our entire training platoon of 90 recruits were fast asleep in the squad bay. Suddenly, our drill instructor flipped on the ceiling lights, started pounding on a metal garbage can while he screamed at the top of his lungs that we had 90 seconds to get squared away, get our gear on and assemble on the parade grounds just outside the barracks for an important announcement.
Needless to say, 90 seconds was not nearly enough time to even lace up one boot, so by the time our platoon had assembled on the parade field we were a motley looking group of rudely awakened recruits in various stages of undress.
That night on the parade field our drill instructor called the platoon to attention. We stood outside in platoon formation on a huge pitch black parade field on a steamy hot South Carolina summer night.
Our D.I. proceeded to inform us that, on that very night, each of the recruits in his platoon would never forget this night. We were told that on this night, each of us would become witnesses to history. Of course, having had no access to newspapers, radio or television for weeks, none of us had any earthly idea what he could be talking about.
Our D.I. then ordered us to parade rest and to stand at ease. While strutting across in front of his recruit platoon, the D.I explained that the United States of America had successfully landed a spacecraft and men on the surface of the moon. He then ordered the entire platoon back to attention and commanded “eyes right.” There was seemingly nothing to see in a pitch black South Carolina night sky but for one massive and bright full moon.
Our D.I. then barked loudly at the top of his lungs, “Millions of people all over this planet, at this very hour have their eyes glued to their TV sets watching Americans walking on the moon. Just because we don’t have no TVs in basic training doesn’t mean the Marine Corps intends for you recruits to miss out on this historic moment.
“I want you all to stare at that moon until you can focus in on its surface and see those guys live and in person crawling around up there. You will never forget this night, especially ‘because I got your sorry asses out here to see it all in person and for yourselves.”
I’m not so sure that on that night I was actually able to focus in and see Neil Armstrong hopping along on the moon’s surface but, my D.I. was right about one thing. I never have forgotten that historic evening, and although I did miss out on seeing the first manned moon landing on TV, seeing it “live and in person” turned out to have been a more memorable experience.
Elna Senecal Butterfield
As my little family and I stood in front of the TV watching two men walking on the moon, my mind flipped to my blind grandmother, who could not see this event.
This stalwart woman, the daughter of a Civil War veteran, was born on a little dairy farm in Vermont, in a home without electricity, without an indoor toilet, with no hot water except what was heated on the wood-burning kitchen stove. Transportation was via horse.
She and my grandfather were one of those “modern” couples when they married, as Grandpa sported a Willys Knight automobile. They drove the three miles to Rutland City, but not much further than that. Roads weren’t too good back then. Grandma and Grandpa never knew the world of high-speed cars and super-highways.
They “modernized” as electricity, a radio, a telephone, indoor plumbing and a furnace came into their lives. The narrow dirt road in front of their home became black-topped. They bought a TV in the early 1950s. It was black and white. Color was yet to come. In her later years, after Grandpa was gone, cataracts took Grandma’s vision. TV was of little use to her.
My Grandma died on July 21, 1969, just one day after man walked on the moon. What amazing changes had occurred within her life span. And now, as I look back over the last 50 years, I see even more amazing changes. I just pray that these and future changes will be for the betterment of mankind.
Regarding the moon landing. At the time I was working at a hospital in Manhattan. I had a small apartment provided by my employer, but no TV. A radio and the New York Times provided the news.
When I heard about the moon landing coming up, I knew I had to see it.
As my apartment was on 58th Street and Ninth Avenue, Central Park was a five minute walk away. I heard that they were going to have a giant TV set up in the park and anyone who wanted to watch was free to do so.
So, around 10 p.m. that night, I walked over to the park and had the privilege of watching the moon landing in the great outdoors of New York City. What fun to be in the park at night in the company of hundreds of strangers.
It really was “a night to remember.”
On July 20, 1969, I was 10 years old.
Like many local families back in the 60’s, we were fortunate enough to have a “camp” on Lake George. We had a large family of eight kids, and on that Sunday, after a long day of fun and frolicking on the lake, we were fast asleep on the screen porch of the small camp.
This was where the kids’ quarters were as the adults would occupy the big camp near the water. I remember my father gently waking us and telling us we had to come watch the TV as the spacemen were going to walk on the moon.
“This is something you’ll remember for the rest of your life, as it’s a once in a lifetime event,” he energetically announced to the gathering of his brood.
He had brought a small portable television and set it up in the main room, moving the rabbit ears until a clear picture was set. I recall watching Neil Armstrong descend the ladder and taking that first step on the moon. I don’t remember my sibling reactions, but I do recall thinking how this could be the beginning of a whole new place to visit someday.
In 1965, I started teaching 5th/6th science in Sayville, Long Island.
That spring, I started a Model Rocket Club for interested girls and boys. The response was so great that I developed a teaching unit, “Model Rocketry and America’s Space Program.”
We followed the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs with keen interest. We built scale models of each flight and followed each launching on TV, either in the classroom or at home as an assignment.
We trained our two classroom pets, “Boris and Natasha,” (1960s cartoon characters) as gerbilnauts. We put them through all kinds of preflights tests and determined Natasha would be the first to fly.
The students were determined to win the race to the moon. Needless to say Natasha did not land on the moon but did land safely on the school playground after a flight and parachute landing of about 60 to 90 seconds.
Since the Apollo 11 landing was during summer vacation, my students watched in their own homes. I watched with my 8-month old daughter, my wife and Boris and Natasha. We were glued to the TV just like you. We continued with the updating of the teaching unit as it became a part of Sayville’s curriculum as well as some other districts though out the country.
I was 10 years old and attending St Mary’s Academy. I remember my teacher asking if anyone had a portable TV, which wasn’t very common at the time, and if they could bring it to school so we could watch it.
We had one, so I “volunteered” my father to bring it in. They weren’t very easy to carry, but he did it so we could watch history happening. I will always be grateful to my dad for doing tha,t and it made me the hit of the class that day too!
Michael J. McDowell
On July 16 1969, I was a 20-year-old infantry squad leader in USARVN.
We were in a fire fight that day, and later that same day I said to our Vietnamese scout/interpreter, “Hey, Moun, GI on the Moon.” His response to me was, “Bull.” Yes, I shall never forget the day we landed on the moon.
Twelve of us sat in my mother’s living room in Hartford, Connecticut, celebrating my nephew Phillip’s fourth birthday. Three generations enjoying cake and ice cream while our eyes were glued to the black and white TV screen.
When the lunar module touched down, we all clapped and were so excited. At last, something really great was happening to end a tumultuous decade. I spoke with Phillip the other day and he has no recollection; however, my older children and his older siblings do.
The older ones were happy because they were allowed to stay up later to watch the historic “moonwalk,” which didn’t happen until after 10 o’clock that evening. I’m still in awe whenever I watch the documentaries about Apollo 11. Congratulations NASA!