As we honor Neil Armstrong today, everyone who was alive that magical day has a story like this one. On July 20, 1969, I had just arrived in Knoxville for three weeks at the University of Tennessee Sports Camp , after a family vacation at Callaway Gardens , Georgia. On the way through, we stopped in Atlanta for brunch with family members. I remember my Uncle Sid looking at the paper and saying in disgust, “Well that kills HIS chances of being president.” I then looked at the Atlanta Constitution that had Chappaquiddick all over the front page. But that didn’t stay the top story for long.
My head counselor at UT was Steve Kiner the All-American linebacker, who later played for the Cowboys and Oilers in the NFL. At the beginning of our orientation talk, Steve promised us that we would get to watch the moonwalk later that night, as long as everything happened on time. Only THEN, did Steve get our full attention.
We got word during the afternoon that they landed, and everybody was nervous about what would happen when they opened the hatch of the LEM (Lunar Excursion Module). Would everything work, or would some weird sci-fi horror befall the astronauts?
Around 10 p.m. about 40 guys were gathered around a 14” black and white TV with spotty reception. How perfect! The pictures on the screen were a “simulation” of what we HOPED was actually happening. Armstrong gave a step-by-step call of opening the hatch and walking out. When he uttered those words, “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind,” we all breathed a sigh of relief. The words seemed appropriate and profound for the occasion. At some point, I remember them reading Bible passages I think from Genesis, maybe just as they landed. Somehow, that made the guys watching less scared. Some of the redneck hillbillies were really terrified for the astronauts, and one kid said, “My daddy said this is all a bunch of crap.” That guy didn’t make too many friends for the next three weeks.
When I went to bed, I stayed up for a long time thinking about what happened. I finally went to sleep, sharing in a huge sense of grand accomplishments, satisfaction and historical presence. The world felt safer and smaller that night, and on that night anything seemed possible.
H. Scott Prosterman
Posted: Sunday, 26 August 2012