40 years after moon landing, it remains a day of wonder
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin walks near the lunar module during the Apollo 11 mission on July 20, 1969.
An estimated 10,000 people watch giant television screens in New York’s Central Park and cheer as astronaut Neil Armstrong takes the first step on the moon on July 20, 1969.
In this July 20, 1969 file photo, the Apollo 11 lunar module rises from the moon’s surface for docking with the command module for the trip back to Earth on July 20, 1969.
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin walks by the footpad of the Apollo 11 lunar module on July 20, 1969.
Associated press FILE - In this July 20, 1969 file photo, Astronaut Neil Armstrong inside the lunar module while it rested on the moon’s surface on July 20, 1969. Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had already completed their extravehicular activity when this picture was made.
The guys arriving to work the second shift at the Boeing 747 plant that July afternoon stayed in their cars, waiting and listening.
“A play-by-play was on the radio,” remembered Jack Rookaird of Mukilteo.
It was time to get out and go in, but most of the shift crew just sat there until the astronauts had landed safely, he said.
“Then there was much cheering and horn blowing,” Rookaird said. “We were all a few minutes late.”
If you're a baby boomer or older, you probably remember what you were doing July 20, 1969, the day men first walked on the moon.
Monday marks the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing. Six hours after they touched down, astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong stepped out onto what Aldrin described as the “magnificent desolation” of the moon's surface.
If you were near a TV, including your parents' old black-and-white model, you watched in amazement.
Retired Boeing engineer Frank Leathley of Mill Creek remembers driving his sons Brad and Scott to the Pacific Science Center in Seattle to watch the landing on a big screen.
“It was one of President Kennedy's goals. It was a big success and you just had to watch,” Leathley said. “And then when I got home, I took a photo of Armstrong off the TV.”
Fellow Boeing retirees Tom Clogston of Bothell and Bill Pearce of Everett had worked on the Saturn rocket, the booster that sent the command module into space.
“It was my son Donald's 10th birthday,” Pearce said. “My boys went outside and looked up at the moon. It was very exciting.”
Vince Taylor of Marysville was serving with the Marines in South Vietnam, working an evening guard duty at his base just outside of Da Nang.
“I can remember walking patrol knowing that somewhere out there, in the pitch-black night, was an event happening that would change the course of human events forever,” Taylor said. “My solace came in knowing that I was just one small grain of sand on a very large beach, but still a part of my generation's history.”
In Africa, Dan and Esther Burris and their daughters Martha, Linda and Donna were missionaries in what was then the country of Rhodesia.
Now living in Lynnwood, the Burris family was stationed hundreds of miles away from any city.
“We were way out in the bush, and stayed up into the wee hours of the morning to get “The Voice of America” on our little battery-operated radio,” Esther Burris said. “Then the next day was spent trying to explain to the (local) Africans how a man could walk on that little round circle of light up in the sky — quite a challenge in itself.”
Marysville's Theresa Finnegan and her family were living in Tehran, Iran, where her father was working.
The family went out on their balcony and looked at the moon while listening to the Armed Forces Radio broadcast of the lunar landing.
“Our grandparents from Seattle had flown out to visit with us that summer, and our sense of the occasion was heightened as our grandmother spoke of how she had been born in 1904, the same year that the Wright brothers first flew,” Finnegan said. “ ‘And now here I am,' my grandmother said, ‘Watching men land on the moon.' ”
Bart Cronin and his wife Mary Lee of Edmonds were moving back to the Northwest after working in Boston for a couple years.
Driving across central New Jersey with the news of the moon landing playing on a New York radio station, Cronin said he was happy for the light traffic on the freeway.
“We were so intent on listening to the landing we found ourselves going less than 30 mph,” Cronin said.
Vickie Murphy of Marysville was in central Italy touring with her church youth group that summer.
“We had stopped at a highway rest area near Milan where there happened to be a TV that was broadcasting the moon landing,” Murphy said. “I remember trying to hear the American newscaster, who was being over-dubbed with Italian translation.”
Several bus loads of American high school kids gave a loud cheer as they watched Armstrong set foot on the moon, she said.
“I've never been so proud to be an American,” Murphy said. “I will never forget seeing that while visiting a foreign country.”
June Bergsagel of Everett shared that same pride on July 20, 1969.
A college student, June and her brother Erick Erickson, now of Mukilteo, had returned to Cameroon, Africa, to celebrate the 25th wedding anniversary of their missionary parents.
There wasn't a TV to watch, but the family and their friends had a National Geographic map of the moon's surface, a telescope and a shortwave radio on hand.
“We could see craters on the moon, so we had a general idea of the location of the landing,” Bergsagel said. “For the next several days after the event, when my father went to town to run errands, many people congratulated him for being an American and that his fellow countrymen landed on the moon. Dad took it all in and was very proud.”
Nancy Fletcher of Arlington was at a YMCA camp in Pennsylvania. In the middle of the night, the camp staff woke up the kids and herded them into the dining hall where a small TV was broadcasting the moon walk.
Paine Field airport director Dave Waggoner remembers standing on a chair in a bar at Pacific Beach to get closer to the TV, which was hung from the ceiling.
Future of Flight museum volunteer John Couturie was a student at the University of Washington. The longtime science fiction and aviation fan remembers his amazement.
Judy and Jerry Hunter of Lake Cavanaugh were glued to the tube watching Armstrong walk on the moon, when they realized their 10-month-old son Scott had taken his first steps.
July 20, 1969, was Vic Bursell's 21st birthday.
“It was a very special day in my life,” the Mukilteo man said. “A bunch of us were on a boat on Shasta Lake in Northern California. I can remember saying, ‘Wow, there is a man walking around on that moon up there.' It was definitely a memorable event.”
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org
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