Wapakoneta is pretty much quintessential Midwest America: a small town of about 10,000 folks surrounded by farms and fields. It has a couple of exits along Interstate 75 where the truck stops are and the main drag is dotted with chain fast-food restaurants and a couple of motels. For the most part, it’s quiet, it’s safe, and it’s comfortable.
Well, sometime during the night of July 28, the crime of the century occurred in that town. One of the most valuable relics of the town’s most famous “hometown boy made good” was stolen. Sometime during that night, a small, solid gold replica of the lunar modular was stolen from the Armstrong Air and Space Museum.
According to reports, there are only three of these in existence. One each given to Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins during their trip to Paris after their trip to the moon in 1969.
And while the fact that the crime occurred is shocking, especially in a place like Wapakoneta, a sad offshoot of this story is how much I realized I didn’t know about the Lunar Landing and how those three gentlemen mentioned above get short shrift when it comes to explorers.
Think about it. At a young age, we are drilled that “Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492,” and that his ships were the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. And yes, Columbus and his voyage are seen as remarkable; they become the first Europeans to set foot in the Americas since the Vikings. We even have a national holiday commemorating the event; Columbus Day is celebrated on the second Monday in October.
Yet, when it comes to Neil Armstrong and his crew, there is very little public recognition by comparison. Maybe I am exaggerating, but if it weren’t for that little museum by the side of the interstate, many folks would have no idea that Neil Armstrong played such a pivotal role in space exploration.
Perhaps this speaks to man Mr. Armstrong was. From all accounts, Mr. Armstrong was a pretty humble and private guy. After leaving military service, he ended up teaching at the University of Cincinnati and lived a comfortable, but seemingly obscure life. He wasn’t like his contemporary, John Glenn, who pursued a life of elected office. He certainly didn’t have the flashy wardrobe of his mission mate Buzz Aldrin. Mr. Armstrong was never one to seek out the spotlight; he could have made a killing cashing in on his celebrity, but he never did.
And while it has been nearly five years since Mr. Armstrong passed away, there is still very little mention of the man and his amazing feat.
Christopher Columbus has cities named after him, a holiday and is widely known. And while I am absolutely positive Mr. Armstrong wouldn’t want any of that, his deeds, and more importantly the deeds of the thousands of men and women that made a lunar exploration possible, are still relatively unknown.
Perhaps it is time for some type of public recognition. In 2015, the state legislature did name a portion of State Route 123 in Warren County the “Neil Armstrong Memorial Highway.” And while that is a good first step, why couldn’t we name the entire route of Interstate 75 the “Neil Armstrong Memorial Highway”? I know that it is already the American Legion Memorial Highway and the Pearl Harbor Memorial Highway, but what is one more?
Throughout our rest stops, we can place those nice bronze signs from the Ohio Historical Society describing Mr. Armstrong and the work of Apollo crew to be the first people to set foot on the moon. The transportation department can place signs letting the traveling public know of the designation.
All of this isn’t just to honor the memory of Mr. Armstrong, but it gives us a chance to think and reflect on how truly monumental July 20, 1969 was in the history of mankind. Think about it. It was the first time ever a human being set foot on land that wasn’t on planet Earth.
Perhaps we are just too soon for the event to hold any significance. Maybe humankind won’t really know how big this event was until we are a few more centuries down the road.
William “Bill” Lutz is executive director of The New Path Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.