July 20, 1969 – where were you?

Lunar Astronauts

I was on a little fire base deep in the Mekong Delta of then Republic of South Vietnam.  A typically dry season day of blistering heat, little dust clouds swirled around our feet as we wandered slowly towards the com shack (communications).

An RTO (radio telephone operator) had rigged a medium sized speaker on the outside wall.  We could have listened to the AFVN broadcast from the relative cool of own bunkers but something seemed to pull everyone together to share this experience.

Crackling slightly we heard the voice up in Saigon turn the program over to a NASA official located, I think, in Houston.  He welcomed all the armed forces listeners around the world.  The day, though hot, was quiet.  The normal sounds of war had faded…no artillery booming in the distance or small arms crackling somewhere out in the bush.

Someone speculated that even Charlie was settling in to hear this unfolding story very close to reaching it’s climactic peak.  It was truly a world-wide shared experience.

That morning some of us had listened as the Lunar Module Eagle separated from the Columbia.  The Eagle began the historic decent to the Lunar surface where “Tranquility Base” waited for this magic moment in time.  I believe everyone who heard the slow reports and commands which attended the decent held their breath for in the back of our collective mind lingered the doubt that “it just cannot be done.”

NASA and the brave astronauts swept aside one impossible barrier of our earth-bound lives after another.  This day would convince even the most persistent deniers that space now was our future.

Our little speaker spluttered and fizzed as it brought us the action occurring thousands of miles distant.  Though we were no more remote from the moon as our home folks, we were separated by all conventions of civilized society.

Communication between the various participants was lost, found, and lost again.  These are the names of the speakers:

Commander                  Neil A. Armstrong
Command Module Pilot    Michael Collins
Lunar Module Pilot          Edwin “Buzz” E. Aldrin, Jr.
Charlie Duke, Capsule Communicator (earthbound)

In the end with remarkable clarity:  “Duke: We copy you down, Eagle.”

“Armstrong (onboard): Engine arm is off. (Pause) (Now on voice-activated comm) Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

Later: Armstrong stepped off Eagle’s footpad and uttered his famous line, “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind”

“The Eagle has landed” and our dreams changed forever.

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