The date was July 20, 1969. The lunar module Eagle detached from the Apollo 11 rocket, carrying Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin to the surface of the moon. Hundreds of millions of people in the United States and around the world waited by their televisions and radios in anticipation.
The airlock opened, and mankind set foot on the moon for the first time.
Fifty years after that momentous day, six current or former Country Day staff members recalled the landing.
“For a while, we could forget about the war and our worry for our dads.”
Eighth-grade math teacher Denise Scruggs
“I was 15 years old, and my father, as well as most of my friends’ fathers, (was) fighting the war in Vietnam. It was a time of great upheaval in the United States with the war being at the center of everything, especially in my family.
“The news about the mission to the moon and the landing was so exciting, and for a while, we could forget about the war and our worry for our dads. We all gathered in my living room (in Fayetteville, N.C.) to watch, and it was almost like watching a science fiction movie at the theater.
“It was definitely a day that I will never forget.”
“It seemed like science fiction, but there we were.”
Former headmaster Stephen Repsher
“I was about to leave for my junior year of studies through New York University at the University of Madrid. We all watched the TV (in LaGrange, N.Y.) for many hours, transfixed by the amazing feats of science and engineering that made the moon landing possible fewer than 10 years after President Kennedy announced our country’s bid to put a man on the moon. It seemed like science fiction, but there we were.
“Since the Soviet Union had already beat us to space with Sputnik in 1957 and again in 1959 with their crash landing of Luna 2 on the surface of the moon, Apollo 11 was vindication for NASA and the United States’ space program. We were all very proud and patriotic Americans that day! I relived the feelings recently when I toured NASA near Houston, which is just a few hours from our home near Dallas.”
“All Americans — be they Democrats or Republicans — were proud of the accomplishment, and the rest of the world was excited and proud for Americans. That seems hard to imagine today.”
Former English teacher Patricia Fels
“I was 15 years old and spending a month in Mexico with my family and another family with whom we traveled. We had rented a large house in Guadalajara — there were nine of us in all — and made sure it had a television so that we could watch the landing.
“The only frustrating part was that, naturally, the broadcast was in Spanish. I had finished two years of the language, and my parents had also studied it, but we were by no means fluent. I especially remember that when Neil Armstrong said, ‘The moon is pretty!’ the Mexican announcer said right away, ‘¡Él dice que la luna es bonita!’ and kept translating in Spanish over the rest of what Armstrong said, so we couldn’t hear it.
“I also remember that my mom and dad kept saying, ‘It looks just like a science fiction movie!’
“What I really liked was that all Americans — be they Democrats or Republicans — were proud of the accomplishment, and the rest of the world was excited and proud for Americans. That seems hard to imagine today.
“Another memory is hearing John F. Kennedy say, ‘We choose to go to the moon’ — it turns out it was a speech at Rice University in 1962 — and seven years later we did! I wish JFK had lived to see it.”
“The feeling was of international goodwill and human accomplishment, more than an American triumph.”
Former history teacher Daniel Neukom
“I was in London, England, to see the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, where I was to meet my hero driver Graham Hill, the (Formula One) World Champion in 1962 and 1968. The walk on the moon had happened in the middle of the night British time, so I went with my friends to the pub when it opened for lunch to see the recorded broadcast.
“People were transfixed and amazed. The feeling was of international goodwill and human accomplishment, more than an American triumph. Also exciting was the moon launch party I attended earlier in Leuven, Belgium, where everyone was anticipatory with fingers crossed about the upcoming feat. The moon launch party was tense, while the moon landing gathering was celebratory. We’d done it!”
“I built a toy model of the rocket and the lunar lander.”
Physics and math teacher Glenn Mangold
“I was about to turn 8. I built a toy model of the rocket and the lunar lander. Our whole family watched on TV (in Pittsburgh). I remember learning a lot of details about the Saturn V, the command module, the lunar lander, etc., but I don’t remember if that was for Apollo 11 or for a later mission.”
“We were all glued to the TV that day.”
Former history teacher Sue Nellis
“I grew up (in La Crescenta in the Los Angeles area) in a family that loved the idea of going to space. My dad was a fighter pilot in the Korean War, flying the first jets off of aircraft carriers. My parents would wake me and my sister up at 4 in the morning to watch on TV the liftoff of the rockets that led up to Apollo 13 (the Gemini program, then the Apollo program). The rockets usually lifted off at 6 or 7 a.m. Eastern (Standard) Time from the Kennedy Space Center, which is why we had to get up so early.
“I remember the moonwalk very well – I was 14 years old. The TV picture was not very clear, but it was so amazing to think that there were men on the moon and that we were witnessing it firsthand. I remember Neil Armstrong saying his iconic statement when he stepped on the moon’s surface. It was fun to watch them bounce around and comment about what they were seeing and experiencing. We were all glued to the TV that day.
“We watched all the rest of the launches and moon landings as well. My husband and I hope to get to Florida at some time in the future when there is a space launch because of our strong memories of the many launches we saw on television. Seeing a rocket go up in person would be a real highlight.”
—By Ming Zhu