Saturday, August 25, 2012

Neil Armstrong's Shadow

Growing up in Lafayette, Indiana, we all lived eventually in Neil Armstrong's shadow.  His shadow loomed large over Purdue University and the Twin Cities on the Banks of The Wabash River.  Armstrong enrolled at Purdue the year I was born. Even when he finished his education there no on knew his name.  He was just another nerdy engineer, a title he would glory himself with forever.

But on that electric day in 1969, everyone knew his name and Purdue would never be the same.  He is arguably the University's most famous graduate, bar none.  No one, myself included, can walk that storied campus without treading in the shadow of Neil Armstrong.

So it was with a twinge of genuine sadness today that I read the news of Mr. Armstrong's passing.  I cannot help but feel a kindred spirit with all those Purdue graduates whose pride in the Gold & Black always wore a little Neil Armstrong on in our Spirits.

I have a lot of heros in life and most all of them are dead.  They go way back to Saint Lawrence.  (Disclaimer: My First & Forever Hero is My Dad.)  Anyway, St. Lawrence is the patron Saint of chefs and cooks because when he was being grilled to death he said, "Turn me over, I'm done on this side."  I went to Saint Lawrence Grade School so this Grillin' Guy was obviously a candidate for childhood hero status.

There have been a lot of other heroes and heroins come into my life.  Neil Armstrong was one of them.  Back then in 1969, believe it or not, I was Manager of a small park in Lake Tahoe, California.  Yep, 'tis true.  My boss had a little black and white TV which was itself a technological novelty at the time.  He brought it to the park for my duty cycle and we set it up on a ponderosa log that marked the boundary of a parking area.  We watched in awe on that little TV when Neil stepped out of the lunar lander and uttered his forever famous words about being a small step and so forth.

From that day forward, Neil was one of my heroes and the fact that he was a Purdue alum only added to his glamour.  Years later when he declared to the National Press Club, "I am, and ever will be, a white-sock, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer," Neil's hero status in my mind went exponential.

Armstrong's status as a worldwide hero is well known and being bantered about the planetary news media tonight.  He deserves every bit of whatever allocades come his way.

I am sad tonight for his passing.  Even at the age of 82, he seemed young to me.  I thought he would somehow live forever.  I had no idea he would die so young.  I thought of him as a centenarian-in-the-making, living large in his late life fame, forever carrying pencils in his pocket and making my white socks seem so righteous.

God Bless You, Neil.  God Speed where you are going.  May you feet alight softly in your next small step.
We will miss you, Fellow Traveler.  You have inspired us.  You have Gifted Us.  And for that, we will Thank You forever.

All Hail To Our Old Gold And Black!
Hail, Hail To Old Purdue!
Our Friendship May She Never Lack.
Ever Grateful, Ever True,
Thus We Raise Our Song Anew;
Of The Days We've Spent With You,
All Hail Our Own Purdue!

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