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Neil Armstrong Recalls Advice: Set Goals High

This is the last in a series of articles I pulled from clippings I saved as a kid observing the Apollo space program.

This one was published in the Boston Herald Traveler  on Thursday, July 17, 1969. It is taken from the New York Times News Service, author unknown.

Neil Armstrong Recalls Advice: Set Goals High

New York Times News Service

In the late 1860s, families of stolid German farmers and merchants, fleeing the draft under Bismarck’s blood-and-iron foreign policy emigrated to northwestern Ohio, and in succeeding years mixed their blood with that of the descendants of Revolutionary War veterans who settled in the country in the 1820’s when the Shawnee Indians were still vigorous. This produced a cultures whose dominant verities still include hard work, honesty, church on Sunday and the Republican Party.

On August 5, 1930, Neil Alden Armstrong was born of that heritage in the living room of his grandparents’ farm house, six miles southwest of Wapakoneta (population about 7,000), a model of small-town mid-America.

Neil was the first of three children of Stephen Armstrong, a state employee who spent Neil’s formative years as an auditor of county records around the state, a job in which he helped send several cheating officials to prison; and Viola Engel Armstrong, a slim gracious woman who has always been drawn to music and books, and whose attitudes influenced her son.

“My parents are characteristic of the area where I grew up,” the astronaut said in an interview in Houston. “At the risk of being wrong, it was my observation that the people of that community felt that it was important to do a useful job and to do it well.”

Young Neil began working part time at age 7, cutting grass in a cemetery in Upper Sandusky for 10 cents an hour and progressing as a teenager to stock boy in a Wapakoneta drug store. This kind of thing was simply expected in Wapak, as the local residents call the town.

“I told all my children I hoped they would pick out something worthwhile, that would do some good for other people, to set their goals high, do the best they could, and they’d have a happy life,” says Neil’s mother.

Because of the elder Armstrong’s roving job, the family moved from one northern Ohio town to another six times during Neil’s first six years. But the essential quality of family life remained constant.

The hours Mrs. Armstrong spent leafing through magazines with her son, reading books to him and constantly talking with him, produced a very bright little boy who talked early, read 90 books during the first grade and skipped the second grade because he could read on a fifth grade level. Later, at Wapakoneta’s Bloom High School, he flourished in science and mathematics.

Always small, younger than most of those in his classes and looking even younger, Neil developed into a shy, non-assertive, not particularly athletic boy. He went away to Purdue University in Indiana at age 17, an immature, withdrawn youth. He left Purdue after two years to become a Navy combat pilot.

As the youngest man in his squadron, Neil flew 78 combat missions off the carrier Essex in the Korean War, including one in which a cable stretched across a North Korean valley-the one made famous in James Michener’s “The Bridges at Toko-Ri”- clipped off the wing of his jet. He won the respect and admiration of his older squadron mates by nursing the plane back over friendly territory, then bailing out safely.

Neil’s obsession with flight began on a casual family excursion to the Cleveland Municipal Airport when he was two years old. Four years later, a frightened, white-faced father took a delighted six-year-old Neil for his first plane ride in a Ford tri-motor. A year later the boy built his first 10-cent model plane, the first of hundreds to grace, and sometimes clutter, his bedroom over the next several years. He worked as a teenage grease monkey at Wapakoneta’s small airport; he paid $9 an hour for flying lessons and won his pilot’s license before he was licensed to drive a car. He built a wind tunnel in the basement of the Armstrong’s tree-shaded two-story white clapboard house.

Armstrong returned to college after Navy service, then left Purdue in 1955 with an aeronautical engineering degree and joined the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (then the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics). He had declined to remain a Navy flyer partly because of the de facto compulsion to wine-and-dine that is part of Navy life.

The already skillful aviator spent the next seven years at Edwards Air Force Base.

If anyone was a natural to become an astronaut, Neil Armstrong was it. He was assigned to become a pilot on the now defunct Dino-soar project, in which he was to fly a craft that was to have been part spacecraft and part airplane. Apparently anticipating the end of Dino-soar, which came in 1963, he applied for the astronaut corps. In 1962 he became the first civilian to be admitted to the corps.

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This entry was posted on August 27, 2012 by in Tracking the Past and tagged , , , , .
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