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Neil Armstrong ...

"How were things on the moon?"

Neil Armstrong died last week (Aug. 25, 2012).  In reading news accounts, one writer noted that Armstrong was not a recluse, but “he just lived a quiet life and turned down nearly all interview requests and offers to celebrate his accomplishments.”  That was not my experience, I thought.  

I met Neil Armstrong a couple times.  The first was in 1974 when I was promotions director at the Cincinnati Reds.  My boss Dick Wagner suggested we invite Armstrong to throw out the ceremonial first pitch on the fifth anniversary of his walk on the moon.  When my phone calls failed to reach him, I sent a letter.  When I got no response, I presumed he was not interested.  His aversion to the limelight was well known.

Then, on the moon-walk anniversary day, a phone call came.  My secretary answered the phone and called to me, “It’s that Mr. Armstrong on the phone again,” presuming it was Henry Armstrong, the head of a fraternal civic group with whom we dealt.  “Hello Henry,” I said.  There was no response.  “Henry?” I repeated.  Then came the response, “No, this is Neil … Neil Armstrong.”  Slowly I got my bearings as he apologetically explained he had been out of town and just found my letter in a stack of mail.  “No problem,” I said, explaining that we had hoped to recognize the moon landing anniversary and his feat.  I presumed that having just returned to town, he was calling with regrets and to say he couldn’t join us.  Slowly, I began to realize that he really wanted to come to the game if his last minute call was not too late.  “You can … you can join us tonight,” I said.  “That’s great.  We would love to have you come down to the game.”

I met him at the Press Gate about a half hour before game time and we headed to the field area together.  Players generally showed little interest in my VIP dugout visitors, but Neil Armstrong was different.  I think some of them were genuinely humbled in his presence, and they made the most of the opportunity to talk with him.  One encounter I will never forget is Dave Concepcion’s.  “David,” I said, “say hello to Neil Armstrong.”  When I saw the blank look on his face, “I quickly added, “Neil is going to throw out the first pitch … it was five years ago tonight that Neil walked on the moon.”  I could see the wheels turning slowly as David processed my words.  Then he turned to Armstrong to make conversation and asked, “How were things on the moon?”  Armstrong didn’t know what to say.  Neither did I.

Memories of Armstrong surfaced again in 2009 when USA Today did a 40th anniversary remembrance.  Readers were asked to submit their recollections about what they were doing when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon.   I was in Phuoc Vinh, South Vietnam as a 25-year-old infantry/information sergeant with the First Air Cavalry Division.  I wrote this about my July 20, 1969 memories and the newspaper published my words:  “I found myself wondering about our country’s priorities as Neil Armstrong landed on the moon.  Seeing the end of a fruitless war was higher on my radar screen than space exploration.  Five years later and in the serenity of peacetime, I had a somewhat different perspective.  I was promotional (sic) director for the Cincinnati Reds baseball team and we had invited Neil Armstrong to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.  Fans embraced the moment enthusiastically and I did, too, and felt great admiration for the man and the accomplishment” 


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