Monday, August 27, 2012

Neil Armstrong, Scottish Astronaut

Neil Armstrong is dead at 82. He was born on August 5, 1930 in Wapakoneta, Ohio and was of Scottish descent. When he was two, his father took him to the Cleveland Air Races and at six, he had his first ride in a Ford tri-motor often called the “Tin Goose.” At the age of 15 Armstrong had earned his flight certificate. He was an Eagle Scout and when he was on his way to the moon he sent greetings to all his fellow Scouts.

His naval career started on January 26, 1949, when he reported to the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida for flight training. Two weeks after his 20th birthday he was a fully qualified naval aviator. Armstrong attended Purdue University with a GPA that rose and fell. He was awarded a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering in 1965 and in 1970 a Master of Science degree in aerospace engineering.

He first saw action in the Korean War. While making a low level bombing run at 350 mph, Armstrong collided with something at a height of about 20 feet which tore off parts of the right wing on his Panther aircraft. He flew the plane back to South Korea but the only option was to eject from the aircraft. He flew 78 missions over Korea and received the Air Metal for the first 20 combat missions. After 20 more missions he received a gold star and the Korean Service Metal. He left the Navy at the age of 22 and became an officer in the United States Naval Reserve. He also returned to Purdue where finished his education and also wrote and directed a musical.

At Purdue he met Janet Elizabeth Sheron and they were married at the Congregational Church in Wilmette, Illinois. (She was a graduate of New Trier High School.) The couple had three children. One daughter, Karen, died on January 28, 1962.

Armstrong next became a test pilot which led to several adventures that could have taken his life. He flew the X15 to a height of 207,000 feet and a top speed of 4,000 mph. During his career as a test pilot he flew more than 200 different models of aircraft.

He will always be remembered for his voyage to the moon in Apollo 11. The object of Apollo was to land safely on a particular spot. When Armstrong saw that they were in danger of missing their landing area he took manual control of the module and found a safe spot for landing. Many of us remember the landing on July 20, 1969 and the first words to Mission Control, “Houston, the Eagle has landed.” When his left boot touched the surface of the moon Armstrong said, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

In 1972 Armstrong visited the town of Langholm, Scotland, which is the seat of Clan Armstrong. He declared the town to be his home. The Justice of the Peace read an unrepealed law which required him to hang any Armstrong found in the town. The law was 400 years old.

 “My pleasure is not only that this is the land of Johnnie Armstrong, rather that my pleasure is knowing that this is my hometown and in the genuine feeling that I have among the hills, these people” (Four hundred years earlier in the days of Johnnie Armstrong, the clan could put 3,000 men on the battlefield, each with the name of Armstrong.)

The astronaut came to Chicago on August 13, 1969 for a giant parade down Michigan Ave. More than a million people lined the streets and 100,000 jammed Civic Center Plaza for the official welcome. There have been numerous stories that he carried a swatch of Armstrong tartan with him on the Apollo 11 mission but this has never been confirmed and is probably not true.

American has lost another quiet, unassuming hero.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus

P.S. Armstrong was invited to become a member of the Scottish American Hall of Fame but he respectfully declined.

The next meeting of the History Club will be September 8, beginning at 10 a.m. The program will be presented by the Eastland Society. Admission is free. Reservations are helpful. 708-447-5092.

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