When Neil Armstrong died Aug. 25, we lost another American hero. Armstrong was never a person terribly comfortable in the limelight, a self-professed “white-sock, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer.”
But he inspired a generation by bravely carrying out a bold mission to the moon, along with Apollo 11 astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. It was a hallmark of human achievement, of American achievement in the 20th century.
I received a letter this week from Gay White of Waterman, who wrote, “Who of us really can look up at a beautiful full moon and not revel in the fact that our American flag flies there?”
White, who said he waited for the “blue moon” on the night of Armstrong’s memorial service Aug. 31 to wave goodbye, saw the hand of God in what the men of Apollo 11 were able to accomplish in July 1969.
At the time, he wrote in a poem of several stanzas, which he included with his letter. Here’s a snippet:
“Well, God was tending to his business when he heard this infernal racket, and sighting Apollo 11, He mused, ‘I wonder if they can hack it?’”
They could and did “hack it,” all the way to the Sea of Tranquility and back. Just after the 10th reunion of the first manned mission to the moon, Armstrong visited DeKalb County to speak to the local farm bureau at Northern Illinois University’s Carl Sandburg Auditorium.
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They were there: Longtime journalist Don Peasley, who was doing public relations for the DeKalb County Farm Bureau, and Mike Hardt, who was the bureau manager at the time, were there when Armstrong headlined the DeKalb County Farm Bureau’s annual meeting in February 1980.
Hardt said the connection with Armstrong was through a retired dentist named Dr. Ken Shearon, whose niece had married Armstrong.
Shearon owned land outside of Sycamore, and a bureau member was farming it. Shearon made a couple of calls and Armstrong eventually agreed to appear.
But there were strict conditions. Armstrong, who owned a farm in Ohio and considered himself as much farmer as scientist, insisted there be no media or he’d walk out.
“He said it was not about him as an individual, that he did this for country and he was real adamant about that,” said Hardt, who has been with the farm bureau since 1977. “He was real funny about publicity. It was pretty much a closed shop, just for members at the time.”
Armstrong’s insistence gave Peasley an exclusive on his 35-40 minute speech before several hundred farm bureau members.
In Peasley’s account, Armstrong said he had to take manual control of the Lunar Module and locate a landing spot on the moon within 90 seconds.
Of his view from the moon, Armstrong said, “Earth looked like a giant blue medicine ball, drifting in the inky blackness.”
Peasley described Armstrong as clearly being in command of the room, just as he had been on board the spacecraft.
“So soon ... he came, made an imperishable impact, earned the respect of those who saw and listened … and he was gone,” Peasley wrote at the time. “On schedule. Precise. Punctual. Always in command.”
Hardt said the one part of Armstrong’s speech that stuck with him was a story about how having friends who were NASA pilots came in handy for Armstrong when he cut off part of a finger while working on his farm.
“He said ... ‘I made a quick call, a guy flew in, I met him at the airport with my finger, I jumped into the airplane and got my finger sewed back on.’ “
Ah, the things you remember. So it was that one day, the first man to walk on the moon visited DeKalb County. Although he’s gone now, his legacy will stand the test of time.
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Court action: There was much rejoicing when Drew Peterson was convicted this week of murdering his third wife, Kathleen Savio, in 2004. The details of the case and the trial have been well documented.
It’s understandable family members want justice for their dead loved one, and Peterson’s conduct during the investigation certainly made him an individual easily despised.
But it’s not cause for celebration exactly. Peterson was convicted by jurors with a knack for wearing color-coordinated outfits – one day they all wore sports jerseys – who had to ask the judge to define “unanimous.”
He was convicted despite the lack of any physical evidence. No witnesses placed him at the scene. There was no precise time of death or any theory presented as to how Peterson might have drowned Savio in the bathtub of her Bolingbrook home.
Yet a widely despised suspect was convicted of murder based on hearsay and circumstantial evidence.
I’m not crying for Drew Peterson, and I hope the verdict brings some peace to Savio’s family. But when things like this happen in America, it makes me a little itchy. If the verdict is overturned on appeal, it won’t be shocking.
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Fun fair: The Sandwich Fair is in its 125th year, and if you have time to stop there this weekend, you should.
For many of us who have lived “in town” our whole lives, our greatest connection to the land might be mowing the lawn or keeping a garden or flowerbed.
Personally, growing up in suburban Chicago, the first time I visited a real working farm was when I visited a college roommate’s parents’ downstate dairy farm.
It was pretty obvious I was out of place when I picked up a mostly empty plastic container and asked what was inside.
“Battery acid,” was what my pal’s dad told me. I don’t know if it was true or not, but they all laughed as though it was.
Anyway, go out to the fair and have a good time, cultivate a little connection with the land. I wouldn’t eat too many deep-fried Oreos, but you don’t have to skip them altogether.
• Eric Olson is the editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 257, email firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @DDC_Editor.