Alabamians who were alive on July 20, 1969 generally have no problem remembering where they were when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. Many of our readers, who are in their 60s, 70s or older today, responded to our call to share a memory of that proud moment, and we’ve printed a selection of them here. Some were involved in the Apollo mission itself; others were in the military serving on ships or the jungles of Vietnam. Younger readers were celebrating birthdays, getting married or were at summer camp or on vacation. Many of you were like me, a teenager watching the event on a grainy, black-and-white TV at home. After a few minutes, I had to walk outside to our front yard in suburban Birmingham and look up at the moon, marveling that a man from earth was really up there. It was a proud moment for our state, which played such an important role in the space race as the home of U.S. Space & Rocket Center, and for all Americans. Enjoy these memories of the Apollo 11 50th Anniversary. – Lenore Vickrey
Part of the mission
I was in the U.S. Navy stationed aboard the USS Arlington AGMR-2 in the Tonkin Gulf. I had arrived aboard from Da Nang, Vietnam about 1 month earlier. We were the communications ship assigned to help recover the capsule of Apollo 11. We off-loaded boats on Johnson Island to make room for President Nixon who spent the night on our ship on the eve of the splashdown (lots of personal time with President Nixon that night). The next morning was AMAZING. We were the closest ship to the capsule. I still remember standing on the flight deck watching the capsule with the three parachutes descend.
Mike McDonald, Orange Beach
From 1960 to 1963 I was an electrical engineering co-op student from Auburn University working for NASA at Marshall Space Flight Center. I was able to participate in the development and construction of the Saturn V booster system that ultimately put astronauts on the moon. When the first moon landing did take place, I was an engineer for the Naval Electronic Systems Command in Charleston, SC and stayed up that night to see the landing videos. It was thrilling to know I had played a minor role in that success.
Carl Gagliano, P.E., Auburn
I was working for NASA as a propulsion engineer at the time and had been selected as a launch honoree for the Apollo 11 mission. My wife and I, and our two children at the time, went to Ocala, Fla., and were transported by bus with other launch honorees to the beach where we were able to watch the launch.
On the way back to Huntsville, we stopped at my parents’ home in Pine Apple, Ala., and watched the landing on television. This was the golden age of space exploration and I was very fortunate and proud to be a part of it.
Erskine G. Donald III, Camden
I was a 33-year-old engineer working for the Boeing Company in 1969 when the Apollo 11 mission took place. I was working on the S-1C test stand at the NASA test site in Mississippi. My job was to assist in the testing and verification of the big F-1 rocket engines on the S-1C booster that lifted the Saturn 5 off the Kennedy Space Center launch stand.
I retired in 1996 from the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command with 30 years of government service.
George E. Pollock, Arab
From a hotel room in St. Louis, my husband Dan and I watched in awe as Neil Armstrong took those first steps on the moon. Dan was on leave from basic training. I was working at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville in a summer program for college students which included educational seminars about space exploration and NASA. Our interest in the space program has been lifelong and passed on to our grandson, Samuel Albert. An aeronautical engineering graduate of Purdue, his dream is to be an astronaut and part of a mission to Mars.
Cathy Pallardy, Town Creek
Serving our country
I was in the heart of the jungles of Vietnam. Not much communication from the outside world except mail, when we could receive it.
Memories there were not very pleasant, but the memories I made with so many of my comrades in the Army were great. We later did receive word from the states and the Stars and Stripes Magazine about the “moon landing.”
Doug Sinquefield, Dothan
I was a 23-year-old Airman First Class in the U.S. Air Force. I was stationed at Tan San Nhut Air Force Base in Saigon, Vietnam. I watched on a small black-and-white TV as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped on the surface of the moon.
Arthur F. Elliott Jr., Opelika
Fifty years ago, I was in the U.S. Navy stationed on Midway Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. There was no live telecast of the moon landing on Midway, so my fellow sailors and I could only hear Neil Armstrong’s famous words on the radio. We finally got to see a videotape of the landing that arrived from Hawaii several days later. It was still exciting.
Dave Johannes, Montgomery
I was at Lackland, AFB doing my basic training. On that night in particular, I was on guard duty and had to stay by the door to prevent intruders from doing, I was never sure what, if they managed to get past me.
There was a TV in the common room of our barracks, and we were allowed to stay up and watch the presentation, but still had to be ready for our morning exercises at 0600.
F.K. Wiseman, Hanceville
The picture of me was made June 9, 1969 in Newport, R.I., while serving in the U.S. Navy. Four of my buddies and I camped in the Catskill Mountains in New York the weekend of July 19 and 20, 1969 and we also got Monday (Moonday Holiday) off. We went into the local town to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon Sunday night. I guess you could call it a watch party since it was in a pub with a TV.
James (Jimmy) Walker, Jackson
I was on a Swissair flight back to my home in the U.S. following a year studying at a university in Switzerland. The pilot announced that “the Americans have just successfully landed on the moon.” Everyone began to cheer and clap. Then they announced that everyone would get free champagne … more cheers. I was met at JFK Airport by my family and the girl who became my wife of 49 years and counting.
Jim DiSebastian, Gulf Shores
I was with a group of students observing the significant architectural styles in Rome. We were drawn to a gathering around the display window of a home furnishings store. The crowd was mesmerized by the television broadcasting of the space landing. A hush fell over the crowd as Neil Armstrong descended the ladder. The Romans erupted, chanting, “Earth has placed a man on the moon!” Their vicarious credit for this epic achievement was met by the American students chanting, “USA, USA USA!” I have a real treasure, the Rome newspaper of July 21, 1969. The front page has a huge picture of Armstrong’s descent from the lunar craft.
Stan Neuenschwander, Pike Road
Mom and Dad were yelling, “Hurry up it’s about to happen, you have to see this!” I ran as fast as I could into the living room, wondering what was coming from the blue-glowing light.
My dad was stationed in Landstuhl, Germany when I was 9. At that age, I vividly remember the blue-glowing light of the television illuminating the entire room. I stared wide-eyed as the first man walked on the moon!
Debbie Godwin, Evergreen
Special birthdays, anniversaries
I was celebrating my 16th birthday glued to the television marveling this achievement! No big party for me; I refused any distractions interrupting a single second of history in the making. I saw Sputnik; this was better! My hero father passed away on July 30, 1967, but Neil Armstrong became my new hero that day. I prayed for a safe mission and return and have been an avid follower of NASA.
Joyce Weiland, Decatur
July 20, 1969, was my 10th birthday. My brother and I usually fought over which TV channel to watch: ABC, NBC, or CBS. But on our birthdays, for a whole blessed day, the birthday child was honored with being in charge of that decision. Imagine my disappointment when I switched on our black-and-white model to find that all three channels were showing only moon coverage. No cartoons! No children’s shows! Just images of a funny-looking landing module, and a man in a stiff white suit planting a flag. Failing to grasp the significance of the occasion, I couldn’t believe my misfortune at wasting a whole birthday’s worth of TV privileges. In retrospect, it was special to share my birthday with our country’s historic landing on the moon that revolves around planet Earth.
Nanette Chadwick, Auburn
Every year on my birthday, I think of this special time. 1969 had so many bad things to remember. The Vietnam War, racial unrest, Chappaquiddick and so on. It was my 18th birthday. I was like a kid wishing I could be there on Apollo 11. I was in Rainsville staying with my parents and baby while my husband was stationed overseas. After watching the news on this historic day for Alabama and the world, I had to go look at that big, beautiful moon. On that special day, as the Earth stood still and a man walked on the moon, I was part of it.
Kathy Buckner, Rainsville
It was the first anniversary of our marriage. We watched Neil Armstrong step onto the moon, but we did not watch that historical moment on the same TV or even in the same country. I was in Ohio. He was at Wheelus AB, Libya. However, since we were an American military family, I had a great deal of pride in our country and the astronauts. Outdoors, I gazed up at the moon knowing we were seeing the same one.
Connie Tanner, Wetumpka
Although I do remember when Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon, my fondest memory of July 20, 1969 was wedding my high school sweetheart, Sandra. I was on leave between Ft. Wolters, Texas and Ft. Rucker, Ala., while attending Army helicopter training. We said our vows at Myrtle Beach AFB, Myrtle Beach, S.C. We were headed to Atlanta for our honeymoon, but stopped in Columbia, S.C. It was here that we watched the famous “small step for man.” Sandra passed away on January 14, 2018 after 48 years of marriage. I miss her very much.
Dr. Larry W. Key, Fort Rucker
My future husband and I were having dinner at the Steak Barn in Huntsville, and while there he proposed marriage to me. We later returned to my brother’s home where I was visiting. My future husband and I wanted to watch Neil Armstrong take the first steps on the moon, so yes, definitely we wanted to have two memorable occasions start our new lives with. Later that year we were married in Missouri. We will also be celebrating a 50th anniversary in 2019.
Janice and Ken Smith, Houston, Ala.
At summer camp
Summertime at a Brownie camp, Aventura, in California. At the main lodge during dinner it was announced for everyone to get a jacket and a flashlight and go to the nurses’ station. When I arrived later, most of the girls were seated on the ground facing a television the maintenance man had set up outside during the day. It was a surprise to all. Even for such a young audience, everyone was enthralled by the fuzzy screen.
Patricia R. Cobb, Woodville
In 1969, I was a 12-year-old Boy Scout attending summer scout camp at Maubila in Jackson, Alabama. On the night of the moon landing, the troop leaders set up a few TVs in the dining hall (with rabbit ear antennas) so all the scouts could watch. We all cheered loudly when the lunar landing occurred. By the time Neil Armstrong exited the Lunar module, we were all fast asleep and had to be awaked by the leaders to watch the first step.
Neil Armstrong was an Eagle Scout, and I became one as well. (Eleven of the 12 astronauts to walk on the moon were Scouts.)
Joe Galloway, Mobile
I was a camp counselor at a boy’s summer camp near Monterey, Tenn., 100 miles from Knoxville, a very remote location on the Cumberland Plateau. We knew the astronauts walking on the moon would be late at night so we had the campers bring their pillows and sleeping bags to the open air recreation hall. We had a small black-and-white TV with rabbit ears picking up a not-very-good grainy picture. Nevertheless, those who could stay awake, and there were a number of boys who did not, were able to witness history in the making that night.
Kenneth Cushing, Arley
Sparking interest in space flight
We had taken our daughter Lisa to the Birmingham Zoo. About touchdown time, we had returned to the car for lunch and to listen to the event on the radio. Later that night we stayed up to watch Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon. It was memorable, even from a snowy, black and white, 19-inch TV.
While in college Lisa started working for the Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, and has remained there for 33 years.
Dwight, Claudia and Lisa Pelfrey, Moulton
Watched the launch
My parents and I traveled to the Cape to witness the once-in-forever event of Apollo 11’s launch. We took the tours and rode right by the Saturn 5 on its pad. Along with thousands, we spent the night before the launch on a beach across from the site. We stood in awe as we watched, heard, and yes, felt the lift-off. When it was out of sight, we jumped in our car and headed home to Ider. Then we watched, on our old black and white, as the men we had seen leave earth, completed their mission.
Anita Day Robertson, Scottsboro
‘Forced’ to watch
I will never forget July 20, 1969 because I was very angry! There I was, 14 years old, on summer vacation in Panama City Beach, and I was told to come inside and watch something on television. I was vacationing with my three teenage cousins on summer break. It was a beautiful day on a white sand beach with emerald colored water, when suddenly we were “forced” to come inside and watch something famous happen on television. That famous event was to watch the Apollo 11 mission send the modular Eagle to the moon’s surface and watch Neil Armstrong step onto the moon and say those famous words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Grudgingly, we went inside, but what a travesty it would have been to have missed watching it all firsthand on tv.
Gay Cotton, Orange Beach
On a motel TV
I was 15 years old on my way back to Troy after a vacation to Seattle, Wash., with my parents. We spent that night in a motel in Dumas, Texas, and I was exhausted. My mother excitedly reminded me history was being made as we all watched on that small TV that hung from the ceiling corner. My dad, now age 95, recalls it well too! One small step!
Susan Avirett Johnson and Wayne H. Avirett, Troy
We were students at Auburn University and working at Bonanza Sirloin. On July 20 David brought his little black and white TV to work so we wouldn’t miss the unbelievable event about to occur. After all the customers had left that evening, those of us working gathered around the TV to see history being made. We were amazed that man was actually walking on the moon that we saw in the sky that night!
David and Juli Spence, Montgomery
I remember sitting in the living room of my parents’ house on Kent Street in Montgomery watching those ghostly images on the TV with my Daddy (Mama was a registered nurse and working at Baptist Hospital that night). I then looked out the window and up at the sky thinking that men were actually walking on the moon. Less than a month later, my parents stopped at Cape Kennedy on the way back from a trip to Miami and I was able to stand at the launch pad where Apollo 11 left for the Moon. I’m 61 years old now and those are memories I truly treasure.
Clay Redden, Prattville
Humor on the night shift
I was at the paper mill in Jackson Ala., on the night shift. A timekeeper brought a TV. Someone went for updates regularly. A guy asked me about “the one that got bit.” I knew someone was pulling my leg. “I don’t know,” I said. “Tell me.”
He said when the ship landed, “moon creatures” tied it down. One of the astronauts went down to undo the bindings, and one of the creatures bit his leg and he got back inside. They couldn’t blast off. They had food and water for only a short time and would starve.
We had a good laugh.
John M. Alday, Leroy
My husband and I were newlyweds in 1969, having married in September the year before. He was attending the University of Texas and we were living in university housing ($28/month rent) and I was working as an RN at Brackenridge Hospital, 3 to 11 pm. We had a small black-and-white TV sitting on a metal milk crate on which we watched the landing after my work shift. We were in awe. He passed away October 2018 after 51 years of marriage.
Nancy Whatley, Butler
Another small step
Anticipating the exciting moon walk, I had set up my camera in the middle of our living room floor to get a good picture of the first step on the moon. We had no air conditioning, so all our windows were raised. We were eating our supper. I was sitting on the floor and my wife was in a chair behind me. Just as Armstrong stepped down on the moon, wind through the open windows slammed the bedroom door shut right beside her. She dumped her plate, jumped over me and the camera and stepped right in the middle of my plate. We still laugh about it.
James and Polly Fuell, Grant
The week of July 20, 1969 was a memorable one for my family. I was pregnant with our first child and was due to deliver on July 25. My husband and I stayed up late the night of July 20 and watched Neil Armstrong make “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind!” It was an exciting time. Our son was born right on time five days later. I will never forget these memorable events.
Joyce Crook, Minter
A number of events are planned to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11. For details, visit www.huntsville.org/apollo-50th-anniversary/ and www.rocketcenter.com/apollo50.
July 13, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Celebration Car Show
See the vehicles of the time owned by Redstone Arsenal/Marshall Space Flight Center rocket families. Limited to cars built from the end of World War II through the Moon missions, 1945-1975. Includes the only functionally operational replica of the Lunar Roving Vehicle (Moon Buggy) provided by Polaris. Also featured are two Kellers manufactured by the Huntsville based Keller Motors and the Chrysler Aerospace – Huntsville designed Dodge Daytona Charger #71.
Break a World Record!
The US Space & Rocket Center will attempt to break the world record by launching 5000 model rockets simultaneously at the exact time of the Apollo 11 launch on July 16, 1969. In addition, model rockets will be launched around the world at 8:32 a.m. CST in each time zone during a 24-hour period. You can join in the fun by launching your own rocket! Sign up at rocketcenter.com/apollo50/GlobalLaunch/Info.
July 19, 6 to 10 p.m.
100 Northside Square
Dancing in the Streets
On July 19, 1969, Huntsvillians gathered downtown to celebrate the Apollo 11 moon landing. Relive that glory day by joining space enthusiasts as they dance in the streets once again. Musical performances themed to the last five decades will take place on each side of the Historic Downtown Square. A projection experience will end the evening and inspire the latest endeavor of space exploration.