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Into belief

It was just a few moments before 11 p.m. Eastern time, 50 years ago today.

The Legal Genealogist — and anyone else alive at the time — remembers it as if it were yesterday.

Gathered around television sets, radios, anything that would carry a signal, we watched and we listened.

The hatch of the landing craft opened.

Neil A. Armstrong carefully and slowly descended the ladder.

And at 10:56:20 p.m., he stepped off the ladder onto the lunar surface, with words we will none of us ever forget:

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

As far as all of us watching were concerned, the Space Race was over.

We had won.

On the moon

I was a fledgling reporter for a New Jersey daily newspaper that no longer exists. It had been called The Perth Amboy Evening News, and later became The New Tribune of Woodbridge before being absorbed into something called the Home News Tribune that’s a mostly-online subset of USA Today now.

The offices were in Perth Amboy that summer of 1969, and the editor was Kenneth Michael. I was on the night shift — 7 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. — covering local news in the Borough of Carteret. There were probably 10-15 people total on the night shift with editors, reporters and everyone counted — and nobody but nobody was anywhere outside of the paper’s offices in those moments just before 11 p.m.

Everyone who could fit crowded into Ken’s editor’s office upstairs, the one place with a small black and white television.

And with a loud, wise-cracking, hard-drinking, hard-swearing, tough-minded group of news professionals gathered around that office…

You could have heard a pin drop.

The absolute awe was palpable.

The sound was scratchy and a little time-delayed.

The images were grainy, as if it were snowing on the moon.

They were in black and white only.

And every moment of it was magnificent.

Years of effort. Scads of science and engineering. Tons of money. Buckets of sheer raw courage.

And we had done it.

We were walking on the moon.

All of us who witnessed that moment have one particular memory of that night. Something that sticks out and will never leave us.

Mine is the memory of a thought that crossed my mind as that hushed crowd of news reporters watched those first footsteps on the moon.

I thought of my grandmother, who — I hoped — might be watching at her home in Central Virginia.

My grandmother, Opal (Robertson) Cottrell, born in 1898 in rural Texas.

Who had crossed from Texas to what was then the Oklahoma and Indian Territory around the turn of the century.

In an ox-pulled covered wagon.

From the covered wagon to the moon, in one lifetime.

And in that amazing moment I believed.

There was nothing we couldn’t do if we just had the will to do it.

To those men of the Apollo 11 mission whose raw courage gave us that moment — Armstrong and Aldrin in the lunar lander, Michael Collins in the command module — thank you.

To all those whose efforts before Apollo 11 made it possible, thank you.

To the scientists and engineers and mathematicians, thank you.

To those with the political will to spend the money and make it happen, thank you.

You gave us hope.

And that belief.

That there was nothing we couldn’t do if we just had the will to do it.

We could sure use a dose of that today…

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “One giant leap,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 20 July 2019).

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