Like millions around the world, on July 20, 1969, I was glued to the Apollo 11 coverage. We strained to watch American astronauts Neil Armstrong and “Buzz” Aldrin become the first humans to land on the moon. It was nothing less than moonlight madness on CBS as my sister and I sat transfixed, cross-legged and sleepy-eyed in front of our grainy, black-and-white TV console.
We were all thirsty for every nuance of Walter Cronkite’s televised play-by-play, because it was a collective glorious moment for all Americans. Looking back, it was also strange redemption for the trauma we had endured less than six years before when — with a lump in his throat — Walter (the same trusted newsman) had the most painful task of all. To deliver the unfathomable news to a nation that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. That our president with the lofty goal of landing a man on the moon would never see it realized.
When Christmas 1969 arrived, one of the presents under the tree from my mother and father was this Apollo 11/John F. Kennedy medal commemorating man’s first lunar landing. On the back it reads:
“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal before this decade is out of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.”
John F. Kennedy, May 25, 1961
It may not surprise you to learn that at the time I received this gift, I was an unimpressed twelve year old. But fifty years later, it’s one of the items I treasure most from my parents. Not just for the sake of owning this beautiful and rare piece, designed by renowned sculptor Karen Worth.
But also because having the medal helps me to relive and cherish the memory of a remarkable moment in American history … when we reveled in a positive shared experience and were universally proud of our accomplishments as a nation.