Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, passed away in August 2012. He is one of many VIPs of our nation and so merited a post about him on my blog at that time. A few days after his death, Glenn Beck read on his radio program an amazing letter previously written by Mr. Armstrong to a young man. The letter is dated 16 June, 2008, and was addressed to the son of some of friends.
I have not been able to get this letter off my mind and thought I would share it on my blog. The letter illustrates the importance of operating within our sphere of influence to build and strengthen the rising generation. Please note how Mr. Armstrong makes history come alive for this young man and how humble and grateful he sounds. He gives wonderful counsel and serves as a great example for all of us. I am grateful the young man or his family thought to share this priceless letter, which is as follows.
It was such a pleasure to meet you on our recent visit to your home. My wife, Carol, and I were pleased to learn about your school work, your interests, and your activities.
My own childhood was somewhat different than yours. I was born on a farm and lived in small towns. We had a radio for news and entertainment, but television and computers had not yet been invented.
In school I liked most all of my subjects, but I particularly liked science and mathematics. In the fourth grade, I became interested in airplanes and began to build and fly model aircraft. Aviation excited me, and I decided that I wanted to design airplanes.
About that time, the Japanese bombed an American Naval Base in Hawaii called Pearl Harbor and destroyed many Navy ships and Army aircraft. This attack marked our entry into World War II. The United States was at war with Japan and their allied nations, Germany and Italy. Gasoline, meat, sugar, and many other things were rationed, which meant that each family could not buy just anything they wanted or as much as they wanted as everyone does now. Winning the war required everyone to sacrifice and to limit their consumption of things that were necessary for the war. My classmates and I often collected paper and scrap metal for the war effort.
It was a very difficult and very tragic time. Over 400,000 Americans were killed during the war. Worldwide, about 70 million people lost their lives.
In the 7th grade I had a job working in a cemetery, mowing grass and raking leaves. Later I worked in a bakery, a grocery store, and a hardware store.
I had decided I wanted to be an airplane designer but, in order to be a good one, I thought it would be helpful to be a pilot. So, when I was 15, which was the year the war ended, I used some of my money I had been earning to pay for flying lessons. The rest I saved for college.
In high school, I selected my courses to support my goal of becoming an airplane designer. That worked out well for me when the Navy held a competition for a college scholarship combined with becoming a Naval Aviator. I was lucky enough to be one of those selected which allowed me to go to the university of my choice. I selected Purdue University in Indiana which had an outstanding school of aeronautical engineering.
The Navy taught me to fly military aircraft including the new jets. A war between North and South Korea had broken out and the United Nations sent in troops to try to end the war. The Soviet Union (Russia and some of its neighboring countries) and other communist nations were supporting North Korea. I was sent to the war as a Navy pilot flying from an aircraft carrier. I returned to Purdue from the war to finish my engineering studies.
In my Navy experience, I learned about the exciting field of testing new airplanes. This captured my imagination because it was a field where I could use both my engineering knowledge and my flying skills. I decided to switch my goal from airplane design to flight testing.
I was fortunate to get a flight testing job – flying new, high performance airplanes including some that were rocket powered. I genuinely enjoyed my work and learned a great deal. When the Soviet Union launched the first satellite, named Sputnik, it started what was called “The Space Race”.
The Russians seemed to be far ahead of the Americans. In addition to the first satellite, they flew the first animal into space, a dog named Laika; they sent the first space probes to the Moon, Mars, and Venus. And they were the first to put a human into orbit, Yuri Gagarin.
Americans decided to compete with them by trying to be the first to send a human to the surface of the moon. That was a very exciting idea, and I decided I wanted to be a part of that program. I applied and fortunately was one of those who [were] accepted.
The early American human space flight efforts were composed of the Mercury program, the Gemini program, and the Apollo program. I missed the Mercury program but was able to fly in both the Gemini and Apollo spacecraft. It was difficult and exciting work, and I enjoyed it immensely.
When I was your age, I read about fantastic voyages to the moon in books by H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, but they were just fantasy. I never could have guessed that people would fly into space during my lifetime. Even as a young adult, I would not have believed it. And you will not be able to predict the opportunities that you will have in your lifetime. Preparing yourself so that you can take advantage of the changes you cannot predict is difficult. It is probably best to learn about a lot of different things.
In my work, I depended on many people. In space flight, whether it be a fellow crewman or a flight controller in Mission Control on Earth, I was often trusting that person with my life. When you depend on others you want to be able to trust them. You will want to know that they say what they mean and they mean what they say. And they will want to feel the same way about you. Your word should be beyond question.
There is much uncertainty to life. Good health may be taken away from you without warning. Material possessions may be lost due to circumstances beyond your control. The one thing that cannot be taken from you, without your consent, is your character, which includes your beliefs, your ethics, and your principles. So guard them with care. They are your most valuable possessions.
The 21st century has much promise. Remarkable things may be created and achieved. And each of you will have the opportunity to play a role in achieving and creating a better world. I know you will try. Good luck!! I wish I had your future. Sincerely, (signed) Neil A. Armstrong