The Man Who Came Back

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I actually recall it from my early childhood, when TV was monochrome and the world was still full of wonder; grainy footage of a blurry white blob against grey superstructure and the impossible blackness of space. I knew what I was watching, but no one could believe it. Some still don't, but I was five years old, too young to doubt impossibility. Given the realities of automobiles and Disneyland and grown-up wisdom, who was I to say a man couldn't set his foot upon the moon? I held my breath with the rest of the world and watched a countryman do what man had dreamed since before history began.

When I say "a countryman," I'm not just talking about the flag stitched to his shoulder.  I mean my mom made sure I knew that the man in the big white suit had been born and raised just down the pike from her, in Northwest Ohio.

The highway that linked Toledo to Dayton shot straight past Wapakoneta, which afforded the single solitary item of visual interest on that corn-furrow road -- the Neil Armstrong Air and Space Museum. Neil was a Wapok boy and Northwest Ohio celebrates its heroes as well as anybody.  There in a landscape that was flat as a landing strip, a mysterious gleaming orb rose from a mound of earth.  As fascinating as it was incongruous, it held a lunar capsule, a planetarium, a mirrored hallway simulating deep space, all manner of cosmic delights awaiting any traveler intrepid enough to pull 200 yards off I-75. It impressed me mightily.

Neil Armstrong has been a superman pretty much as far back as I have memory and more than that, a superman from my own maternal homeland. He never resorted to endorsement cash or the punditocracy. He remained to the end a pilot, a man who pushed envelopes, a man who went where none had gone before, and by the miracle of television, took us there with him. What he and his team achieved has inspired us for nearly half a century.

Superman Armstrong has gone to ground now, taking no more giant leaps and reaching out for no more stars. But I have the benefit of knowing first-hand the land from which he rose. If a man from Wapok can grow up to be Superman, anybody can. Maybe even me.


With a Perspective, I'm Dan Passamaneck.

Dan Passamaneck lives and blogs in San Francisco where he works to provide free legal services to low-income Californians.