Previous posts in this discussion:
PostMemories of Apollo 11: July 20th, 1969 (Patrick Mears, Germany, 07/20/19 4:04 pm)
This responds to your invitation to WAISers to write a short essay recounting our memories of the Apollo 11 moon landing fifty years ago on July 20, 1969.
At that moment, I was seventeen years old and had graduated in the prior month from my small, Roman Catholic high school on the far northwest side of Flint, Michigan with the name of "St. Agnes." Back then, the lives of my classmates and our parents were generally well-ordered. Beyond the existential and vague fears of world communism and the deaths arising from the Vietnam War, we were experiencing an economic boom. Indeed, most of my classmates' parents held well-paying positions in the Chevrolet and Buick factories and other facilities dominating the city's economy or in other local businesses servicing motor vehicle production in the area.
Also during this period, the City of Flint and the nation appeared to be making progress in moving beyond the long years of de jure and de facto, racial segregation in housing and other modes of discrimination. On February 20, 1968, less than one year after the deadly race riots in the City of Detroit in July 1967, voters in the City of Flint passed by a 43-vote margin a fair housing ordinance prohibiting racial discrimination in the sales of homes within the city's boundaries. Prior to that historic vote, which was the first such success at the ballot box in an American city, Flint was one of the most segregated cities in the United States. Beginning in the early part of the 20th century when Flint's fledgling motor vehicle industry experienced explosive growth, the local real estate industry engaged in the practice of "redlining," which artificially created "white" and "black" neighborhoods throughout the city. Real estate agents refused to show African-Americans homes on the market for sale in white areas and would otherwise refuse to facilitate these sales. Even before passage of this ordinance, however, this discriminatory system was dissolving. As Flint's African-American population burgeoned in the late-1950s and 1960s and sought housing, the boundaries of these segregated areas expanded and necessarily diminished the extent of the previously "white" areas.
As a result of this increase in the African-American population, the eastern boundary of the Roman Catholic parish of St. Agnes in Flint had been constantly receding during this period. What had been the redlined boundary between black and white neighborhoods had moved westward from the main thoroughfare of North Saginaw Street for a distance of one mile to Detroit Street, which also ran north and south less than one-half mile from the parish church and school. The approval of the fair housing ordinance in the year before the moon landing accelerated the process of housing integration within the City of Flint, although St. Agnes School, which offered education from Grades 1 through 12, did not host any African-Americans as students during my senior year of 1968-1969. Our student body had so far remained "lily-white." For WAISers who are interested in this topic, the history of my old parish along with housing reform and race relations in Flint is explained in an excellent article authored by Thomas C. Henthorn in Volume 31 of the Michigan Historical Review published in 2005 and entitled "A Catholic Dilemma: White Flight in Northwest Flint." This article can be obtained online via JSTOR here: https://www.jstor.org/stable/i20174110 .
It is against this backdrop that the moon landing took place. In the year prior to touch-down, the parish had established a coffeehouse in one of its buildings to serve as a meeting place for high school students and was particularly busy during the summers of 1968 and 1969. Occasionally local musicians would perform there on summer weekends and students could purchase coffee made on the premises and sometimes snack food. A television was also located within the facility, and it was to this box that we turned on the evening of July 20, 1969. The coffeehouse enjoyed a larger than average crowd that night, due to the scheduled moon landing. When national television coverage of this event began, we gathered around the tube to hear the network announcers dramatize the lead-up to touch-down and to watch the fuzzily defined figure of Neil Armstrong slowly descend the steps to the moon's surface and declare in a garbled voice: "one giant leap for mankind." Shortly afterwards, most of the crowd exited the coffeehouse and looked up in a group at the waxing-crescent moon for quite some time. Also on this evening, the news story of the "Chappaquiddick Incident" involving Senator Edward Kennedy and Mary Jo Kopechne was beginning to be developed and reported upon by the media, although at the time, my thoughts and those of my classmates in the coffeehouse on the evening of July 20, 1969, were focused exclusively skyward.
As a coda to this piece, the remainder of the summer of 1969 passed uneventfully and soon my classmates and I were busy organizing our personal belongings to attend college either in our home town or elsewhere. Little did we realize then that the moon landing would, upon later reflection, be viewed as a dramatic caesura separating our lives and experiences. We could not foresee then the time in the near future when Flint's largest employer, General Motors, would abandon the city and, as a consequence, fatally wound its economy and the quality of life for most of its residents. Without a doubt we would not have believed any soothsayer who would have predicted that Flint's water supply would be poisoned and the resulting disaster would be swept under the rug by "emergency managers" for the decimated community and a host of state officials.
JE comments: A sweeping and fascinating recollection. The last fifty years have been as brutal to Flint as the previous half-century had been kind. But as Pat Mears poignantly reminds us, Flint's boom years were not experienced by everyone equally. Michigan has a sad legacy of segregation that is still haunting us today--just look at Flint's water crisis, which probably never would have been allowed to happen in a "white" area.
The Chappaquiddick incident occurred just two days prior to the moon landing. Michael Sullivan is next to reminisce.
Memories of Apollo 11, Chappaquiddick
(Michael Sullivan, USA
07/20/19 4:31 PM)
I'll never forget 20 July 1969, as I had just returned from a mission in my F-4 in northern Laos and landed at our base in Chu Lai, South Vietnam. My ground job was as the squadron's Aircraft Maintenance Officer and I was met as I got out of the aircraft by the senior enlisted Master Sergeant who was the Aircraft Maintenance Chief. He usually met me when I returned to discuss aircraft availability and the plans for returning mechanically down aircraft back to a flyable condition. But on this day he also had a copy of the Stars and Stripes daily military newspaper with him which published the Pacific area edition. He said you won't believe this and handed me the paper. The top half of front page said in huge letters. "Blonde Dead, Ted Safe" and the bottom half had a black and white picture of a pier projecting out onto a river. The AMC then said to open the paper to the next page and on page three I saw in the headlines "Armstrong Lands on the Moon!"
The priorities of the media to place scandal over more newsworthy and historical events is still prevalent today!
JE comments: Plus ça change. Or not: no newspaper today could get away with a headline like that.
Michael, wasn't Neil Armstrong a Navy aviator? Was his achievement celebrated by pilots in the Marine Corps, or was there some inter-service rivalry/jealousy? A bit of both?
- Memories of Apollo 11: July 20th, 1969 (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 07/21/19 3:52 AM)
50 years ago I was not glued to the television but to the radio, listening to the landing of the first man on the Moon. I was in the middle of the Atlantic bound from the Persian Gulf to Rotterdam.
The day was also personally important, as on this date I received confirmation that upon arrival in the Netherlands I would be promoted to master and take command of the vessel for the next trip. But on top of it my wife confirmed that she would arrive in Rotterdam. It had been "only" 9 months that I had not seen her. I would go on vacation for 70 days. At that time the life of a mariner was not easy.
After being mooring/loading master at Mena Saud, as the regular Egyptian master was due to return after a long leave following a bad accident while mooring, I went back to sea as Chief Officer.
By the way the Egyptian master, a former captain of King Farouk's personal vessel, was hated by the local Arabs because of his haughty personality, while I was loved by them. The beautiful daughter of said fellow had married a Saudi Prince but I had the impression that she hated the marriage and would have quite happily escaped to Europe instead of returning to Riyadh, but it was impossible to help her.
JE comments: A life at sea sounds glamorous, but Eugenio Battaglia reminds us of the harsh realities of family separation. If I may pry, Eugenio, how did you and your family cope?
A demographics fun fact: Riyadh in 1970 had fewer than 500,000 people. Today, its population stands at 7.6 million.
- Memories of Apollo 11: July 20th, 1969 (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 07/21/19 3:52 AM)