‘One small step’
50 years later, moon landing astonishes those who remember
Moon landing recollections
The Messenger leads off its local 1969 moon landing recollections with Albert Habhab, who was mayor of Fort Dodge in 1969. His reaction to the moon landing, below, was published on July 21, 1969.
“Once again mankind has displayed its ingenuity and wisdom in the conquering of outer space. The joy of the occasion was shared by literally millions upon millions of people throughout the universe. For several suspenseful moments, the world remained silent, first as the lunar module set down and then again as astronaut Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. And then with the spontaneity that seldom occurs in a lifetime, a chorus of cheers emerged that truly could be heard around the world.
“The unanimity of the people on this courageous adventure to the unknown and the acclaim accorded the spectacular event by the leaders of nations throughout the world, I believe, has been unparalleled in the history of our country. I found this universal acclaim to be a gratifying experience and a significant part of this project.
“Whether our country was successful or not, our leaders were willing to spread before the world the fruits of the endeavors of those involved so it might be judged as it happened. This too is of particular significance and should be a source of national pride.”
Habhab submitted the following statement to The Messenger Friday night:
“I am as astonished today as I was 50 years ago. What I said then carries with it the same emotional feeling that I presently have. This country’s conquest of outer space not only establishes our country’s strength and endurance, but it shows our desire to work with mankind to develop those areas that are yet a mystery. The words of Neil Armstrong when he said, ‘One step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind,’ are now and have been since the day they were spoken, a part of this country’s history. Those words stand by the utterances of Patrick Henry when he said, ‘Give me liberty or give me death.’ Those words stand with Jack Kennedy when he said, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.’ They alone can stand with the words of (Abraham) Lincoln, when he stood on the platform in Gettysburg and said, ‘Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.’ Neil Armstrong’s words will live on and are part of this country’s history.”
–Judge Albert Habhab, of Fort Dodge
“Three friends and I spent most of the month of July, 1969, traveling through nine countries as part of tour group. We spent overnight on July 20 in Lucerne, Switzerland. We couldn’t watch the event on television; our rooms had no television in them. We couldn’t read about it in the newspaper as it wasn’t in English.
Oh, well, we would spend the afternoon shopping in downtown Lucerne instead. Couldn’t do that either. The Swiss people were so excited for the Americans and the event that all the businesses closed to be able to watch the moon landing for themselves.
That evening when our tour group met together for supper, our table decor and favors were all red, white, and blue. The hotel and servers were as proud as we were to celebrate the event together.”
–Karen Weld, of Clarion
“I vaguely remember sitting in front of our TV with my parents and six sisters watching the moonwalk. I was 7 years old.”
–Dana Lantz, Farm News advertising manager
“We got to stay up late that night, past 10 p.m. to watch on TV, which was a big deal. It was pizza and pop night at the house. I just remember it took forever from the time landed to the time they came out.”
–Annette MacKay, accounts receivable at The Messenger
“I recall being in our front yard during the landing, looking at the moon with my inexpensive telescope. I was disappointed I couldn’t see anything, which was hysterical to my parents!”
–Terry Christensen, publisher of The Messenger
“The 1960s were an unsettled and turbulent time in American history. There were multiple dynamics at work both on the domestic political scene as well as the international stage. The Vietnam War was tearing at the American fabric, the civil rights movement was moving forward, and the country was still reeling from the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. Civil protests and demonstrations were commonplace. And to add to the societal uncertainty, the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union added to the tension of the times. The ‘arms race,’ with talk of nuclear weapons and their proliferation, was commonplace. This was a time of high anxiety and stress within America.
But it was John F. Kennedy who, during a speech at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas, on September 12, 1962, announced that “we choose to go to the moon”and created a spark within the American public. Soliciting support for NASA and the announced Apollo space program, President Kennedy set the goal of putting a man on the moon before the end of the decade.
Notwithstanding competing political pressures and other possible priorities of the time, lawmakers committed tremendous resources toward this project. As the program progressed, there were different events covered by the national media, in somewhat sensational manner, which highlighted the steps being accomplished. From Alan Shepard’s first manned trip into space followed by other milestones including Frank Borman and his crew’s lunar mission and then followed by the climatic event where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon surface that day in late July 1969 during the historic Apollo 11 mission. Yes, John F. Kennedy’s prophecy had become reality.
I remember vividly that historic day. I had just graduated from the University of Iowa and was back in Fort Dodge for the summer working before entering law school in the approaching fall. But this was a special day when everyone was buzzing about the ‘moon walk’ and huge, box-like TVs were turned on everywhere and radios dialed in to keep up with every development. And watching Walter Cronkite as he narrated the events at hand, one had a true sense of the historic significance of the moment. Yes, the United States had made good on its commitment; but there was more to the moment than space exploration; for during this turbulent time socially, politically, internationally, there, through his moment of victory in space, was a greater sense amongst the American populace of a ‘coming together,’ a moment of unison and national pride. For that moment, all other issues of the day were forgotten as the American people celebrated the fact that our brave astronauts had announced to the universe through ‘one giant leap for mankind,’ that ‘we come in peace.’ It was a good day indeed — a very good day!”
–Senior District Court Judge Thomas Bice
“Like many baby boomers, I was inspired by the words of John F. Kennedy and his call to land a man on the moon. I was a senior at Buena Vista College and was watching the Apollo mission and the iconic Armstrong and Aldrin moonwalks.
At the time I believed it was a major technological and scientific achievement. I was very proud of the United States winning the space race and being an American.
But with the Vietnam War going strong and the civil rights strife, I questioned the wisdom and even the morality of our focus on space when so much needed to be done in the interest of peace and justice.”
–Daryl Beall, of Fort Dodge
“Where was I when they landed on the moon? In a bunker in Chu Lai in Vietnam. The power had been cut earlier and we took up defensive positions. Someone had a radio and we listened to the whole thing. During the landing some Marine said ‘they can put a man on the moon, but they can’t keep our (obscenity) power on?’ We all laughed. We surely must have confused the Viet Cong because as soon as they landed, the sky lit up with friendly fire tracer rounds. The whole thing was kind of bizarre. They landed on the moon, we celebrated … and we were back in the war.”
–Darrell Condon, a native of Fort Dodge
“During my year in Vietnam from October 1969 to October 1970, I was one of the 25,000 troops attending the Bob Hope 1969 Christmas Show held at Long Binh Post in late December or early January. Bob Hope had us rolling with laughter at his perfectly timed one-liners, interspersed with beautiful women. It was Astronaut Neil Armstrong who “brought down the house” with his low-key, but spectacular appearance. We all hung on both the mere sight of him in our space and his every word. He was such a big deal. At the conclusion of the wonderful show, I decided to make my way to the stage from where I was seated, at least a third of the way around the sprawling amphitheater, to try to shake his hand. To my surprise I got there fairly quickly, and reached out to him I believe with both hands — the right to shake his hand and the left to hand him a pen and paper from my pocket for an autograph. God bless America, I got both!”
–Jim Lloyd, of Fort Dodge
“My 3-year-old son and I were lying on the floor of our first floor apartment at 130 N. Governor St., in Iowa City. I was in college at the U of I at the time. We did not have air conditioning in the apartment, so we had a box fan set up in the living room to keep cool. We were watching TV on a 9 inch black and white set that had rabbit ears for an antenna. We were watching a historic event take place, especially when Astronaut Neil Armstrong made his famous speech.”
–Jack Christensen, of Fort Dodge
“On July 20, 1969, I left our unit and our dog Gomer in Vietnam and started the process of heading home. On July 24, 1969, I signed my DD214 in Fort Lewis, Washington; the same day Apollo 11 splashed down in the Pacific.”
–Charles D. Swanson, of Boxholm