The first human being to set foot on a foreign celestial body, making a giant leap for mankind, has died. Dr. Neil Armstrong was a patriot and a pioneer. In 1969 he, along with Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin and their pilot Michael Collins, fulfilled Kennedy's promise of putting a man on the moon before the close of the 1960's. Sadly, President Kennedy was not alive to see the fulfillment of this promise. Everyone else in the entire world, however, watched in profound awe as Dr. Armstrong stepped from the Apollo 11's LEM, The Eagle, and uttered the now famous words, "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
I had the honor of being assigned as Dr. Armstrong's armed escort at what has turned out to be his last public appearance, the 100 year anniversary of the death of another American pioneer, Wilbur Wright. In a few short hours I had occasion to know Dr. Armstrong, albeit in a professional capacity, and I learned a great many things about the man. Dr. Armstrong, in addition to being a patriot, was a humble and private man. He didn't sign autographs because he didn't see himself as a celebrity. He was just an old Navy pilot, and that was all he ever wanted to be. But he never failed to stop and talk to anyone who walked up to say hi, he never turned down the offer of a handshake and he was always up for posing for photographs with friends. It should also be noted that Dr. Armstrong saw anyone who approached him as a friend. As I was dispersing a crowd, trying to get Dr. Armstrong safely to his vehicle after the event, it was Dr. Armstrong who was hanging back to talk and shake hands and take pictures. He was a private man, but he was also warm and caring and it showed.
Dr. Armstrong died of complications from heart surgery in Columbus, Ohio on August 25, just 20 days after his 82nd birthday. We all watched as Dr. Armstrong stepped off that LEM ladder onto the moon's surface. It is an image the world will never forget, and Neil Armstrong is a man the world will never forget. Rather, he will be missed, not just by America, but by the entire planet.
Dr. Armstrong, we thank you for your service, we salute you, and we pray that you go with God on this, your final flight. Rest in peace.