Question: Where was Neil Armstrong five months and five days after making history?
The answer: Camp Eagle, near DaNang, South Vietnam.
It was Christmas Day, 1969 and the first human to set foot on the lunar surface was part of Bob Hope's annual Yuletide Show--a cavalcade of stars that would hit the war zone to entertain the troops. Armstrong was part of a group that included Connie Stevens and Dean Martin's dancers, The Golddiggers.
You kids out there can Google those names. They were a big deal at the time.
No Googles are needed for Armstrong, of course. His name is iconic and his legend grows in death with each new story of his modesty. I heard fellow astronaut Jim Lovell Monday afternoon on CNN speaking of Armstrong's passion about staying OUT of the limelight after the moon mission, and of Armstrong's desire to see America maintain a vital, functioning space program.
Of all I've seen and heard, though, nothing sticks out like the story told by my former co-worker and Vietnam veteran Frank Richardson who was at Camp Eagle that Christmas day almost 43 years ago. His tale is short but it conveys where we were as a country at the time of the Apollo 11 accomplishment as great U.S. pride about the moon mission was tempered by the daily news of war without obvious end in Southeast Asia, a conflict that split families, friends and an entire nation.
Armstrong didn't have to be walking the jungles of Viet Nam that holiday season just five days and five months after his small step/giant leap. He could've been home with his family, or doing what passed for the TV talk show circuit in the late 60's. Or, he could've been cashing in on his fame via commercials and endorsements.. He opted instead for the war zone, not to do a "dig me" victory lap but to share with troops on the ground what our country stood for when its collective mind set out to do something. This TIME magazine column reminds us of what Armstrong stood for, what the moon mission symbolized, and how it applies today. Think we're divided today? Those around in '69 remember all too well just how fractured our nation was, not just about Vietnam but about society, gender rights, fashion, music, the country's future and just about anything else.
Armstrong made quite an impression on my buddy Frank and a lot of his fellow soldiers all those Christmases ago. And, the memory of it made a new one on me more than four decades later.