Friday, August 31, 2012

Goodbye Neil Armstrong. You will be missed.

Mike Ullery
Chief Photographer

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Those immortal words, and of course the feat that set the stage for those words, cemented a place in history for Ohio native Neil Armstrong.

Like most Americans, I followed every step of the Apollo 11 mission as Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins journeyed toward their destiny as the first humans to walk on the moon.

And, like most Americans, all of the members of the astronaut corps were my heroes. Equal in my eyes, especially as I grew older were the test pilots, many of whom joined the corps of astronauts, who put their lives on the line in order to test and perfect the machines that allowed us to become the first nation, and to date, the only nation, to put a human being on the surface of the moon, and more importantly, return him safely to earth.

Men like Chuck Yeager, Scott Crossfield and Joe Kittinger, to name but a few, who tested the machines as well as tens of thousands of men and women behind the scenes are the one who allowed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to turn that “small step” into “one giant leap.”

I must mention the “tens of thousands” because, as was repeated by all who spoke at the memorial service for him at the Armstrong Air and Space Museum this past week, that is exactly what Armstrong would tell anyone who asked. Landing a man on the moon was a team effort. He was just a member of the team.

I was privileged to have the opportunity to photograph and spend time with Armstrong on a number of occasions over the years, through my work as photographer for the National Aviation Hall of Fame, in which he was enshrined in 1979.

His reluctance to speak of his accomplishments and his wish for privacy has been well-documented. I will only say that the time that I spent with him was among the most memorable moments of my life.

He was always gracious and kind. I got to the point where I would apologize in advance before he made a public appearance and tell him that if he got tired of the camera, just say the word I would stop. Not one time did he ever say stop. He would put on that Neil Armstrong grin, then go out and greet hundreds and thousands of folks, to whom Armstrong was a hero above all others.

He regularly represented the National Aviation Hall of Fame at their annual enshrinement and at the National Aviation Heritage Invitational, a joint venture for the hall of fame and Rolls-Royce. His kindness and generosity in proudly representing both organizations is just one more example of the type of man Armstrong was.

The mark left in our history books by Neil A. Armstrong, is just as indelible as that first footprint he left in the lunar surface.

In 2004, at the enshrinement ceremony for the National Aviation Hall of Fame, emcee Dennis Quaid asked me to photograph his son, Jack, who was 11 at the time, meeting Neil Armstrong, Quaid had asked me frequently throughout the afternoon to let him know when Armstrong arrived. As we walked over to greet Armstrong, Quaid told his son, “I want you to know that the man you are about to meet is just like getting to meet Christopher Columbus.”

No more accurate description of Armstrong’s place in modern history has ever been spoken.

It was a privilege to have known Armstrong and I can say that I am a better person for having known him, not because he was the first man to walk on the moon, but because he was Neil Armstrong, a kind and considerate human being.

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