”The Eagle has landed.”
Before Neil Armstrong took that historic step of being the first person to walk on the moon, he took his first steps in the small town of Wapakoneta, Ohio where he was born in 1930. It was reported that as teenager he worked in a pharmacy there, ‘saving money for flying lessons.” A reminder that before you shoot for the moon, start small.
Small steps before giant leaps.
Because one of the themes of this blog is people rising up from small (seemingly unlikely places) and doing great things, I think—though not a screenwriter— Neil Armstrong’s life story qualifies.
I was eight years old living in Central Florida when I saw Apollo 11 lift into the sky, and I remember on July 20, 1969 watching a small, fuzzy TV broadcast of Armstrong landing the lunar module on the moon and later taking those first steps on the moon and uttering, “That’s one small small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
That line was not improvised, but following a great literary tradition—it is unknown who actually wrote that line. Nor was it properly delivered. It was supposed to be, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” (Armstrong would say later that the word “a” was lost in transmission.)
Regardless, putting a man on the moon was one of the great technological and symbolic acts of modern history. (It was also one built on years of failures and an immeasurable amount of man hours.) I’m old enough to remember all the debates about how it was impossible to put a man on the moon. So on July 20, 1969—suddenly everything seemed possible.
When I heard news that Armstrong died two days ago quite a few memories came to mind, including how “The Eagle has landed” became a catch phrase for “mission completed.” There is a poster in my office of the front page of the New York Times that proclaims “MEN LAND ON MOON.” (One time where all caps is fitting.)
I thought it also fitting that Armstrong died in Cincinnati, just about an hour away from where Orville and Wilbur Wright designed and built the first successful airplane and where both also died.
It’s also worth noting that while Armstrong will be forever linked to walking on the moon, that of his 82 years of life, he only spend 2 hours and 31 minutes walking on the moon and a total of less than 24 hours on the moon. (His total time in space was just 8 days.)
“I believe that every human has a finite number of heartbeats and I don’t intend to waste any of mine.”
So wherever you live, shoot for the moon—but keep the rest of your life in perspective.
P.S. As far as I can tell, the city of Wapakonita was named after a Shawnee Indian Chief. And Oscar-winning screenwriter Dudley Nichols (The Informer) was also born in Wapakonita in 1895 and wrote for more than sixty movies including Stagecoach, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and Bringing up Baby. He was also the president of the Screen Writers Guild in 1937 & 1938. I bet when he died in Hollywood in 1964 he thought that no one more more accomplished then him would ever be born in Wapakonita .