ByWhen Apollo 11 reached the moon on July 20, 1969, this world was watching as mankind took its first step on another world.
The Press & Dakotan did a local reaction story on the event back then, and a half-century later (see page 15), we asked readers on their memories and/or thoughts on the epic moment in human history.
Here are their submissions:
Jo Wohlenberg, Yankton
From its inception, the NASA Mercury Program captured my attention. Imagine man flying into space! This concept so interested my hometown of Mitchell that even my Girl Scout troop (led by my mother) made Mercury capsules as a project.
When the Project Mercury goals of safely sending men with “the right stuff” into orbit and returning them safely to Earth were met, NASA commenced with the Apollo program which would land men on the moon and safely return them home. It was the race for space! The whole world waited for July 20, 1969, including my fraternal grandmother who eloped in a buckboard!
So, on July 20, I gathered with friends around a Sioux Falls TV, watched Walter Cronkite narrate the epic Apollo 11 event, and cheered another American space success.
It’s a good thing that mankind is inveterate explorers (how else did we end up in South Dakota?). If we are able and have “the right stuff,” why not revisit the moon, travel to Mars or take another giant leap and explore galaxies “far, far away”?
I remember vividly the space program and the excitement leading up to the landing.
I was and am a NASA and space program nerd. I was the kid who got up at 5 a.m. to watch the launches, and knew the astronaut’s names and missions. I remember the building excitement of the Apollo missions, listening to Borman, Lovell, and Anders reading the creation story from lunar orbit in Apollo 8. Each mission building on the last, and wild speculation that maybe the Apollo 10 crew would land rather than abort 10 miles above the lunar surface as the mission called for.
I was at Camp Hook (Boy Scout camp), Miamisburg, Ohio, on July 20 1969. I was a boy scout and the camp week went Sunday to Sunday. After supper in the mess hall the opening night, it was announced there would be a TV in the dining hall for anyone who wanted to watch. About 20 of us made the trip. I was 13 years old.
It was a black and white TV, maybe 12, maybe 19-inch screen, with all of us in a semicircle around it. We listened as Walter Cronkite, the most trusted man in America and a space program junkie himself, intoned what was going on. And then came the announcement, the hatch was open and Neil Alden Armstrong, one of my personal heroes, was making his way down the ladder of the LEM. We held our collective breaths. Then, the TV camera came to life when Neil triggered its deployment, and there he was, in a bulky spacesuit, making his way carefully down the ladder. He dropped to the LEM footpads, and commented how they barely indented the surface. He jumped back up to the bottom rung of the ladder to test how difficult it would be when the EVA was over, then back to the footpad. He seemed to pause a long time but it was only a few seconds. The announcement, “OK, I’m going to step off the LEM now.” Like he was taking his dog for a walk. The caption, “ARMSTRONG ON THE MOON” flashed at the bottom of the screen, and then the most famous words uttered from space: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
In the most spontaneous display of joy and pride in our nation I ever witnessed, we all leapt to our feet and cheered. Handshakes and back clapping, like we had done this. And then we all went to bed, knowing that much more detailed information would follow. By the time we went home the following Sunday morning, they had returned, splashed down safely in the Pacific, and were in their quarantine trailer.
I have seldom seen our nation as united as it was then, maybe the closest is after the 9/11 attack on our nation. We’ve become so isolated from each other and so fragmented, fed by our addiction to our mobile devices and our failure to talk to each other, nurture community, and genuinely care about each other. It truly was a different America then, and the changes have not all been positive.
It was bold, brash, and expensive. Going to the moon cost $25 billion, and they say today it would take over $600 billion. It brought forth genuine heroes, and I’m talking about the 300,000 people who made it happen, not just the guys seated in the capsules, though they were and are a special breed indeed, as Tom Wolfe wrote possessing the right stuff.
Thanks for the chance to share a very special memory, one I hope God never lets me forget.
I grew up in the small town of Buffalo Gap, located near the southern Black Hills. There were a couple of TV stations, a few AM/FM radio stations and one evening newspaper which supplied our knowledge of current events.
I recall the moon landing. It was my birthday and I had just turned 7 years old. Mom and Dad rousted me, my older sister and my younger brother out of bed in the middle of the night to watch the first man step on the moon. We all trouped downstairs, bleary-eyed, to watch a fuzzy picture on our black and white TV.
As a kid I didn’t have a deep appreciation for how momentous the occasion was but I thought it was pretty neat they did it on my birthday. The moon landing made my day even more special and I wanted to become an astronaut because of it.
As an adult I went on to earn an engineering degree from SDSM&T and have spent my career in manufacturing. I have a great deal of admiration for what was accomplished on that day and subsequent days after with more moon landings, the Space Shuttle, and the International Space Station.
I believe that the greatest human undertaking is to explore; to learn new things. I hope to be around when we land humans on Mars whether we use the moon or a space station to accomplish it does not matter. The achievement is a key to bettering ourselves and moving forward as a human race.
Jane (Pike) Adamson
This was the summer after my sophomore year at YHS. Two carloads of us kids went to the Yankton Drive-In movie. As the movie was starting (or delayed), they made the announcement on the car speaker They had landed on the moon and everything was stopped and it was very still as we all looked up at the moon feeling very excited just imagining someone could be up there, then everyone broke out in cheering.
Very special moment and later I purchased the “45 record” of this historical event.
In the summer of ‘69 I was 18 and home in International Falls, Minnesota, from my freshman year at Dartmouth. The night of the landing I was playing tennis under the lights with high school classmate Ron Nagurski (Bronko’s son). I think we were the only two in the country who didn’t watch it so we had the courts to ourselves. I’ve never been able to analyze teens, including myself as a teen in the 60’s. All freshmen had to live in dorms with no TV and we never watched in the summer, so I missed any TV build-up they had.
During a tennis break we looked up at the bright moon and said “Just think, they’re landing on that thing now.”
So technically I guess we watched the landing. Just not a front row seat.
Mary Pat Bierle
On the evening of July 20, 1969, Lewis & Clark Playhouse was performing “The Music Man” at the Garden Terrace Theatre on what was then the Yankton College campus (now the Federal Prison Camp). Although some folks thought the performance should be cancelled, the troupe all believed that “the show must go on.” And, in fact, a few dozen people actually came out for that performance. I guess they hadn’t been following the news that week!
Led by the late, great Jim Wilcox under the musical direction of J. Laiten Weed, with his formidable wife Lucy as first chair violin, the production featured many familiar Yankton names in this community effort. The great tenor voice, Jim Sorenson, played Professor Harold Hill. Marian Nash darted around the stage as Mrs. Paroo. The chorus was filled with MMHS, YHS and YC students, all of whom threw themselves into songs like “Shipoopi” with great gusto. The late Juli Wilcox, always a marvelous comedienne, was the Mayor’s Wife. George Means, Elmo Christensen, Don Rasmussen and Don Thompson were a popular local barbershop quartet, warbling “Lida Rose” to everyone’s delight. And I played the ditsy, giggly Mayor’s Daughter — type casting for a 17 year old.
Somehow a television was rigged up backstage outdoors, attracting everyone who wasn’t ON stage. In fact, Mary Johnson, playing Winthrop Paroo, was so mesmerized by that historic moment, she missed her entrance cue in Act Two! Like the proverbial moths to the flame, we hovered around that little TV, glancing at those grainy images and then up at the moon in that sparkling summer night sky. If it wasn’t a full one, it sure seems like one in my memory.
As we launched into the finale of “Seventy-Six Trombones,” like ancients of old, we sang to the moon that night. And it was our best show of the run.
I was very fortunate to be part of a Boy Scout troop to be at the 1969 Boy Scout Jamboree, at Farragut State Park Idaho. The motto of the Jamboree was “Building to Serve,” which we all did.
As Neil Armstrong, who was an Eagle Scout himself, was on his way to the moon, he sent a greeting to the 34,251 Scouts at the Jamboree. I remember very well watching on a small black and white television outside our campsite at the state park as Eagle Scout Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon’s surface. We were also able to watch a delayed broadcast of the landing at an evening arena show that all scouts attended.
This was a great time in our history.