One boomer remembers one of the best days

For baby boomers like us, there is a handful of events that we shall never forget, not just about what happened but about where we were when it did: JFK’s assassination, 9/11, the first man on the moon. Our friend Larry Checco writes from Silver Spring, Maryland, about his clear memory from that magnificent day of the moon landing when it was wonderful to be an American, wherever you were.

It’s a late, hot summer’s evening in Paris — July 20, 1969, to be exact.

The Champs Elysee is packed, mainly with tourists from around the world. Many are gathered in front of large posh display windows where high-end retailers have placed television sets.

The Eagle, with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin aboard, is about to do the unimaginable — land the first of humankind on the moon! The crowds that huddle around the TV sets to witness this astronomical event thicken as the evening wears on.

Apollo 11 on the moon, July 20, 1969.

Apollo 11 on the moon, July 20, 1969.

Assorted accents from around the world waft a spontaneous, excited universal bond among the crowds. I ask and am told in broken but very understandable English that it will be a good while before Armstrong will be exiting the capsule.

So Nina and I are going to get some rest first. Nina’s the young American woman with whom I had been living and traveling the last several months, and we are exhausted from a long day of walking the streets of Paris.

Larry Checco remembers.

Larry Checco remembers.

But simply to be in Paris on this historic night is sheer serendipity.

Entering our small pensione, I notice the concierge’s private apartment door slightly ajar and his entire family snuggly gathered around a tiny black-and-white TV set, all staring at a grainy image of the Eagle on the moon.

With a combination of sign language and stilted French I asked the concierge if he would be so kind as to wake us in time to watch the first man ever to put his foot on the moon.

The knock on our door came in the middle of the night and woke me from a deep, deep sleep. Nina could not find it in herself to waken.

Somehow I snapped out of my stupor and made it down to the concierge’s apartment.

There, in a dark, teensy, but cozy room, six of us waited patiently — the concierge, his wife, kids, grandma, and me — all fixated on the TV.

Apollo 11 Astronaut Buzz Aldrin salute the Stars and Stripes on the moon.

Apollo 11 Astronaut Buzz Aldrin salutes the Stars and Stripes on the moon.

We sat mostly in silence for what seemed like hours. Not being able to converse well with my hosts, I felt awkward and uncomfortable, which made time move even slower.

Finally, the moment came, the hatch of the Eagle opened and we could make out a large, white-booted foot step onto the rung of a ladder. Then, moments later ….

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

The tiny room erupted! Everyone immediately leapt to their feet, came to me, some with tears in their eyes, and gave me huge hugs and pats on the back. I was stunned. One would have thought that it was I who had just stepped on the moon.

NASA Mission Control at the landing of Apollo 11 on the moon in 1969.

NASA Mission Control at the landing of Apollo 11 on the moon in 1969.

“America …. America …. only America …. only America could do such a thing,” they kept saying. “You must be so proud to be American!” The hugs and tears just kept coming. I no longer felt uncomfortable.

It was all I could do to absorb the moment. It’s a moment I cherish, and I hope, as time continues to pass, I always will.

An aside: Nina, if you stumble onto this story, know that my life turned out pretty well. I hope yours did, too. If the spirit moves you, reach out. I’m not that hard to find.

Larry Checco
© 2015

1 Comment

  1. Years ago I read an article by a traveler, like yourself, who was in Europe the day of the moon landing. “Good job, Yank!” someone called to him.

    My parents had just bought our first color TV in anticipation of the moon landing. I remember the wait, and that moment, when Neil Armstrong’s white boot touch the ground.

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