When Man Walked on the Moon
A Time for War, and a Time for Peace
by M.L. Faunce
Tucked into a modest display in an out-of-the-way exhibit at Maryland's State House in Annapolis, I recently discovered a small state flag and a tiny speck that once figured large in the imagination of Americans. Back in 1969, flags of all 50 states went to the moon on a Lunar Excursion Module dubbed Eagle. The rocks that came back to earth are what many remember most.
But some, like me, remember the times as well.
Thirty years ago on July 20, 1969, eyes everywhere were glued to television monitors as the crew of Apollo II prepared to land on the moon. When the Eagle landed, Michael Collins and Edwin Aldrin Jr. held down the fort while Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. In "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," Armstrong gathered rocks at the landing site near the Sea of Tranquillity. But when he spoke to an anxious President Nixon by special phone hook-up, all was not tranquil back on earth.
Like remembering Pearl Harbor or the assassination of President Kennedy, Americans everywhere remember what they were doing when man walked on the moon for the first time. In spite of the times and perhaps because of the times, not all got to watch.
My brother, Brian, between his junior and senior year in college, was in Officer Candidate School in Quantico - boot camp for Marine Corps officers.
"It was the heaviest period of the Vietnam War, and I was lying in a bunk on a hot summer night after an exhausting day of training," he recalls. "All was quiet. I could hear trains in the distance going north to Washington or south to Richmond. Suddenly, the drill instructor threw open the door to the barracks and barked, 'For any of you blankety-blank guys interested, we just landed on the moon. Too damn bad it wasn't a Marine.' Everything was quiet again except for the trains passing in the night. I'll never forget that."
Up north, on a placid lake in Maine, summer camp had convened. With canoe classes and swimming lessons, it might have been the '50s if it weren't the '60s. Kathleen Wilson, a camp counselor at the time, recalls her disbelief at the camp director's decision not to let the children watch the moonwalk because of concern that the live coverage might end in some kind of tragedy. A television was eventually set up, but the sound was turned so low campers couldn't hear a word. As soon as Armstrong's toe touched the moon, the set went off.
It was the prayer offered by the director, "praising God and not man for the success," that Wilson says bothered her most. The next day, Wilson led her campers on a hike, all wearing cardboard buttons she had made that read, "Thanks to the intelligence of man." The hike out of camp was labeled as a protest, the first in camp history. Wilson says she was "hauled in and practically got fired."
Some say the country grew up and lost its innocence by the end of the 1960s: a president slain, a war like no other in its unpopularity, protests at summer camps. The times were changing. Man had walked on the moon - though I know a person who still insists "they did it with mirrors."
The moon rock on display in Annapolis is hardly a rock, but the precious flake gathered during that first moonwalk is revered as an icon. This souvenir from space is now a relic of history. It's also a milestone remembered by the generation coming of age when our nation went to the moon to explore peace - and around the world to make war.
"A time for war, and a time for peace," sang the popular English rock group, the Byrds, in a song with a Biblical refrain. You won't find that quote along side the moon rocks on display. For that, you'll have to talk to someone who recalls seeing the moonwalk - or someone who didn't.
| Issue 28 |
Volume VII Number 28
July 15-21, 1999
New Bay Times
| Homepage |
| Back to Archives |