Sunday, July 20, 2008

Why is 20 July not a national day of remembrance?

Today will pass, like many other summer Sundays, unmarked and unobserved for the date it represents. And yet it is, perhaps, a date that should be remembered as humankind's most marked achievement.

We rightly honor our fallen who carried out their duty on Memorial Day. We salute those who served on Veterans Day.

But July 20th is hardly noticed.

The following was first posted 28 September 2007.

We did it.

Quick trip to the market and back to try and eke some more brain music out of this Steinway.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketMundane. Not blogworthy.

So...something must be percolating--I mean, I think I have an idea of what's compelling and what's not.

Sometimes you see and don't notice. Sometimes you do.

What I noticed was that handicap parking spots are proliferating. The ones threatening fines if you park there without the special license plates or the rear-view mirror hangie thing. I'm pretty sure there would be no more than two for that size store 25 years ago. There are easily a dozen today (filled btw). Ten or fifteen years from now...?

Have you ever had the experience of standing on line at a movie box office and finding that, except for one other parent with a child, every person was 50 or older. I never had before. Add in that it's rated PG and there was no advertising budget yet the majority of seats were filled for a matinee on a glorious first day of autumn.

Turnson will be eight next week. I wanted a father-son day. The twin tween turnettes are soon to be twelve, and I have become a great big doofus (only slightly less retarded than their little brother) in their eyes.

I had planned to take him fishing with his brand new Ugly Stik. But Saturday evening I heard about a film on a weekend radio chat show that changed my plans--especially because it was playing in only one venue and only until Thursday. It was Sunday or wait for the video release. And it was playing in the sole surviving movie palace in the region.

OK. Show of hands. How many of you have heard or read about In the Shadow of the Moon? The Ron Howard film...the winner of the 2007 People's Choice Award at Sundance...the film that documents mankind's greatest technological achievement?

So in a fit of nostalgia for myself and for the sake of Turnson's understanding of our family we leave the beautiful sunshine to sit in a dark place for 90 minutes. Because my living father was there in early days at Canaveral doing engineering work--telemetry and guidance.

Dad is typically taciturn; much of his long life holds memories that don't bear saying out loud--the kind of memories of an impoverished southern family with too many children and too much responsibilty shouldered by the older boys. He's the only surviving male. When he speaks about the past it's more often about running 'shine to the mills or terrapin hunting with his father. Turnson won't get the story of the fisrt decade of the Space Program from his Grampa.

The curtains drew (yeah! curtains) and Turnson asked if this was going to be a play.

Wait for it, son.

The show started with a piece of film archived for 45 years by this movie house--turns out JFK made a short subject for limited distribution to select theaters on the Bill of Rights. He would be the last president to address the nation on film.

In the Shadow of the Moon begins with narration. It's the simple narrative of the living men that went there, did that, and got a patch instead of a t-shirt. Told in their words and nothing but real images and clips, the story unfolds at its own pace.

The Soviets beat us to get to space first, of course. Gagarin was undoubtedly a hero. But four weeks later we shot Alan Shephard into space for fifteen minutes. That's what we called them then--space shots.

The race was on

JFK challenges the US to land a man on the moon before the decade was out. Because we could. But also because one of the oldest military doctrines is take and hold the high ground.

Little of the film relates the Mercury and Gemini missions. This is the story of Apollo, specifically Apollo 8-17. Apollo 8-10 reached lunar orbit. Told by the men that did it.

In all of time, only 24 human beings have flown to or around the moon, looked back, and seen Earth as a small blue sphere in the blackness of space.

Their numbers are dwindling. Of the 12 who walked on the moon's surface, only nine are alive today, and the youngest is 71.
Yeah, baby--we're definately aging when the young heroes of Apollo are seniors. It means lots more handicap parking.

See this movie. Buy it when the DVD is released. Apollo 11 launched 15 July 1969 from what was by then called Cape Kennedy. Thousands watched from the ground but tens of millions watched on live TV.

Here's a taste.

My September 11 post Moments described how sometimes I view my life by those evil events--going all the way back to JFK's assassination when I was nine.

Well...September 11 tends to be a black day of the soul for me and I wasn't really thinking about some of the great events that have also marked me.


A wild ride, indeed. Summer, especially so. August had the most. Manson Family, Chappaquiddick, Woodstock.

On the evening of July 20, my local rock band opened a concert at the big civic center (no matter how big the headline act was, it always started with a local band). Delaney, Bonnie and Friends (with Traffic's Dave Mason) performed and then it was time for the headliner--Blind Faith.

Backstage was a bit oif a madhouse. Roadcrews and performers waiting their turn.

I was fourteen.

A few minutes into Blind Faith's performance there was an announcement. It was decided that Delaney, Bonnie et al would fill in while the headliners broke for something special.

I was still backstage and a makeshift table with a rabbit-eared 13 inch set was placed in front of the concrete stairs. Way better than crowding around--it was 'stadium seating' on the fly.

When the images began I had the urge to fiddle with the antennae, but the picture was as good as it was going to get. Next to me sat Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker was directly behind him. Try to understand--these musicians were heroes to me--this was the most exciting night of my life so far. Sharing this moment of pride in the US accomplishment with superstars from the UK was bliss. I said to myself, "We did it."

When the weight of those first words spoken from the surface of another celestial body were understood everyone erupted in handshaking and backslapping. There was a chorus of American and North of England accents shouting, "WE DID IT!", and I kept the thought to myself that, "No Eric--we, the US, did in fact DO IT."

Juvenile, huh? Yah, well, 14... not much perspective.

Near the end of In the Shadow of the Moon the narrative relates that on the world tour of the Apollo 11 crew that wherever they went--Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia--they heard over and over those words, not "Congratulation, men, you did it.", but rather, "We did it."

After all, Neil Armstrong did say, "...One giant leap for mankind."

On the short walk to the car, Turnson asks, "Why haven't we ever gone back?"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I remember it well. Being born in 1960, I've had a pretty nice view as a lot of history unfolded in front of my very eye's.

Back then, anything was possible. Now a days, everything is improbable.