A day unlike any other: Sharing memories on Apollo 11’s 50th anniversary

One of the most astonishing events in human history occurred July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong stepped off the ladder attached to the lunar module and sank his boots into the soft surface of the moon. His words — “one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind” — will always be remembered. Nothing compares to this day, in American history or in the history of the world. Nothing even comes close.

To the estimated 650 million people worldwide who sat in front of their black and white television sets that day a miracle was playing out. How else could it be explained? We went from horse transportation to the moon in something like seven decades. We sent three men — Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins — in a rocket from Florida 238,908 miles to the moon, landed them safely and brought them home safely.

This accomplishment 50 years ago was way more than an engineering feat and an act of bravery, way more than the best example you could ever find of a country’s leaders and sharpest minds setting out to do something extraordinary, even impossible. As President Kennedy put it, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

Our leaders at that time, and the men and women of the space program, set a very high bar. They were inspirational. They called on the country to reach for the stars. They pulled us up. And then, miracle of miracles, they landed men on the moon while millions of people watched, transfixed by what they were seeing.

This was dreaming the Big Dream and seeing it through to reality. This was greatness.

We asked our readers to send us their memories of that day. Here are some of them:

My cousin Nancy was getting married that day in Rockland County. My brother Tom was driving my future sister-in-law Kathy, my sister Margaret and I home from the wedding. We were listening on 1010 WINS radio as we were crossing the bridge. We took the wrong exit and wound up in the bus terminal of the George Washington Bridge. We had to go back across the bridge and we stopped at the gas station on the Palisades and saw Neil Armstrong descend the steps on the small portable TV in the gas station. Lucky for us the toll attendant believed our story and let us go across without paying again.

Pat Johnson, Baiting Hollow

I think this is one of the most salient memories of my childhood. I was 9 years old and had just spent a week with my grandparents on a car trip from Northern California to Yakima, Wash., to visit relatives. The moon landing was to occur in the late afternoon of our last day of the drive home. My grandmother wanted to ensure that I saw history being made so we rose at 3 a.m. to start the final leg of the drive home.

We arrived home barely one hour before the landing and she plopped me in front of the TV set to watch intently the amazing history being made. She even allowed me to eat “supper” on the floor in front of the TV, a complete treat at her home, where that was strictly prohibited! I can still see the flickering black and white grainy images so clearly … grateful for the efforts and insistence of my Grammy.

Stephanie Vitolano, Mattituck

I was working for FOTOMAT and was alone in one of their kiosks in the middle of a parking lot in Islip Terrace. I had a radio plugged in and so wished I could share the moment with someone else. Very memorable.

Carol Gillooly, Orient

Buzz Aldrin removes the passive seismometer from a compartment in the SEQ bay of the lunar lander. (Credit: NASA)

I had just graduated from Riverhead High School and was working at Ricky’s Drive-In on East Main Street. A TV had been brought in and I believe that I saw the lunar landing (4:17 p.m.) while at work. (There wasn’t much time to think about it, back to work!) I saw the moon walk later (10:39 p.m.) at home. Even with a great interest in science and space exploration, at first I didn’t really understand the enormity of it all. Looking back, the courage and skill of the astronauts, boldness of the whole program and technical prowess of several hundred thousand people (Yay, Grumman!!) successfully working toward this one goal is truly amazing.

Alan Daters, Wading River

On July 20, 1969, I was at my surprise bridal shower. It was held at my friend’s house in Bayside, Queens. Needless to say everyone was focused on the TV rather than on my unwrapping a toaster or an iron! Obviously the Moon Landing was much more exciting. I was married two months later, on Sept. 27, 1969, my husband Bill’s 25th birthday. It was a very good year.

Jane Reed, Mattituck

My 7-months-pregnant wife and I were sitting on the floor in the living room (closer to TV) in Walldorf, Germany, watching Armed Forces TV Network. It was a time of great hope for the future, for us and for our nation. I remember it was in the evening and it was spectacular to see our men walk on the moon.

Bill and Barbara Kaelin, Fleming, Fla.

On July 20, 1969, I was on a layover with my Pan American crew in Prestwick, Scotland. This day also happened to be my birthday. We were in a small hotel in the nearby town of Ayr. The hotel only had one black and white television set, which stood in the hotel’s lounge. The whole crew was watching this magnificent landing together with the hotel’s other guests and staff. When Neil Armstrong made the moon landing the crowd in the lounge roared and there were toasts all around to the USA! A time which will surely always stay in our memory!

Eva D’Angelico, Jamesport

A footprint on the moon. (Credit: NASA)

July 20, 1969, was my 33rd birthday and I was here in Jamesport in my living room celebrating by watching on TV the miracle of two men actually walking on the moon! I’ve always been fascinated by the moon and have spent the years since that awesome night as an amateur astronomer and a longtime member and treasurer of the Custer Institute Observatory in Southold, which will host a tribute Saturday, July 20, to the 50th anniversary of that wonderful historical achievement!

Barbara Lebkuecher, Jamesport

The moon landing was particularly significant to the Gustavsons (Joan and Troy) because it took place just over a week after our wedding on July 12, 1969.  We had just returned from our honeymoon at Ocracoke, N.C., when we watched Neil Armstrong’s historic first step on our 12-inch black & white TV in our apartment in Teaneck, N.J. And if that wasn’t enough excitement, less than a month later we took members of our wedding party to the Woodstock Music & Art Festival. Whew!

Troy Gustavson, Orient

I was with two of my children in Warren, Vermont, helping my father, Fred Dart, repair his cottage roof. There had been over 100 inches of snow that winter and the roof gave way. We knew that there would be a moon landing and had the television on. Unfortunately the reception was very poor, so although we heard the historic words, we could not see it. It took our return later to Southold to be able to see as well as hear it.

Sandra Kaser, Southold

I watched the moon landing from a 10×60-foot mobile home in a trailer park in the sandy pine barrens of central Louisiana. My first husband was an Army officer recently returned from Vietnam, and we were stationed at Fort Polk. I recall marveling at the fuzzy, black-and-white picture of an astronaut’s boot landing on the surface of the moon while a huge fan whirred in the background, trying and failing to keep me cool in the sweltering heat.

Jane Starwood, Southold

A view of Earth from the moon in 1969. (Credit: NASA)

On July 20, 1969, I was a new widow with 3 young children and wanted a summer job where the entire family plus the dog could go. Camp Quinipet, the Methodist camp on Shelter Island, hired me for that summer. I invited the entire staff to come to the infirmary to watch the historic moon walk since I had the only TV. It was standing room only and the TV was very small, but nonetheless it is still a great memory.

Dale Grathwohl Decastro, Cutchogue

I was at my grandparents’ home in Ocean City, N.J. They had a tiny black and white TV in the living room. We all stood in front of it or sat on the floor and watched. I can still hear the gasps of amazement. That night I walked our dog on the beach in front of the house. I looked up at the moon and said out loud, “There are men up there.”

Steve Wick, Cutchogue