July 20, 1969

I remember the Apollo 11 landing.

I was 9, almost 10, and had been a rabid fan of the space program. I remember watching the later Gemini launches. I remember building a Saturn V model with my Dad, and building larger models of the Apollo spacecraft itself.

We had just started our two weeks on the Cape. Mum had been visiting her sister in New York, so I’d had to watch the launch at my uncle’s house, but she was back, and we were on the Cape. It was only our fourth year at Sands Road.

Dad and his brothers had found the mast of an old boat, and were going to erect it at the Cape house as a flag pole. I remember them spending the morning planing down the bottom of the mast so it would fit into the steel sleeve that would actually go into the ground, and adding the fittings to it. I remember the bright gold ball at the top.

And then around 4, Mum called me into the house. The landing was about to happen. And on a snowy, staticky black and white TV, I saw Walter Cronkite announce the landing. What I did not notice, as I was too young, was what a close thing it had been, how close to running out of fuel they had come.

Then I went back out, to see Dad and his brothers finish erecting the flagpole. They’d set it in concrete, and in the base of it, Dad had inscribed, “ON THIS DAY, SUNDAY JULY 20, 1969 MAN LANDED ON THE MOON”

According to the flight plan, the astronauts were supposed to rest after the landing, with the moonwalk in the middle of the night, way too late for a little boy. But then the astronauts requested permission to go out onto the surface first, and rest later — they were too keyed up to sleep, and Houston agreed. This would take them outside around 10. Could I possibly stay up that late?

My mother said no, and sent me off to bed, deeply unhappy. Then Dad came upstairs, and told me I could watch the moonwalk after all. So I came back down and watched. The reception was crummy — without cable, television on the Cape was snow and static. It seemed to take forever for Armstrong come out of the LM — it took a long time to get ready, and to drain all the air out of the spacecraft, and then open the door.

Then finally, a fuzzy white blob came down the screen, and we heard the words, “Thats one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

My parents let me stay up a little while longer. I think I saw Aldrin come down too; I don’t remember if I saw the President’s phone call to them. But I’d seen enough; I’d seen the historic first steps. And I remember the newspapers the next day, with their huge headlines, “MAN WALKS ON MOON”

Putting up, and taking down the flag became part of our Cape Cod rituals. I would run the flag up the pole around 8:30, and take it down and respectfully fold it into triangles at the end of the day.

The flagpole is still there, but rarely used nowadays. The concrete with the inscription was broken a while back to permit the pole to be repainted, but it’s been a long time since and the paint is nearly gone, and the inscription is barely visible. I’d love to restore it.

For someone who was so deeply invested in the space program as a child, I haven’t been that much into the 50th anniversary hoopla; I’m not sure why. I first read Command Module Pilot Mike Collin’s book, Carrying the Fire, decades ago, and have re-read it several times since. It’s one of the best accounts of the mission I’ve seen, and I keep a copy on my phone and iPad, and dip into it from time to time, including today. And I did see the IMAX Apollo 11 movie.

But I haven’t been watching all the specials and news coverage. I haven’t bothered to watch the videos of Cronkite’s coverage on YouTube yet. I suppose part of it is a distrust of hoopla, and an annoyance with the typically shallow coverage things get nowadays — I can often pick holes in the Apollo coverage.

But I suspect that part of it is that I remember.