In May 1961, only just a few years after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I, which ignited a Cold War space race, President John F. Kennedy exhorted America to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade and return him safely to earth.
Answering that challenge were the nation's brightest minds and most audacious spirits, including an Ohioan by the name of Neil Armstrong.
Armstrong and fellow Apollo 11 astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin brought Kennedy's clarion call to fruition on July 20, 1969. Armstrong, in a mission so dangerous the president had speeches ready upon its demise, piloted the lunar excursion module Eagle and set it upon the Sea of Tranquility only moments before running out of fuel. He carefully exited the lander and with millions of people watching on television on Planet Earth, Armstrong became the first man on the moon.
People born after that day do not realize the significance of the achievement. "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind," Armstrong said as he stepped onto the lunar soil. For one brief moment a nation torn apart by the Vietnam War was unified and two world superpowers that distrusted each other were friends.
Armstrong died at a Cincinnati hospital this past Sunday as a result of cardiovascular procedures. He was 82.
Armstrong will forever be known as the first man on the moon, but the quiet and unassuming Ohioan never tried to capitalize on his fame. He remained a quiet, modest man who upon retiring returned to his farm in Southwestern Ohio near his hometown of Wapakoneta. He lived the life of a quiet academic and passionately supported the space program.
Only on rare occasions did he speak of his accomplishments. Armstrong never used his celebrity for financial exploitation, and how refreshing that is in today's times when fame is diluted by brain-less celebrities - and brain-less celebrity wannabes - who exploit their popularity to an equally brain-less public. He was among the world's most famous men, but for him, the accomplishment, the technological achievement, was far more important.
Neil Armstrong was a true American hero.