Hawks recall when 'the Eagle ... landed.'

  • Wednesday, July 10, 2019

    “Easy Rider” starring Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson and the late Dennis Hopper was the most popular movie in America in July 1969.  A first-class postage stamp cost just six cents and “In the Year 2525” sat atop the Billboard Hot 100 song chart the entire month.  The sticker price of a 1969 Mustang was $2,740 and gasoline sold for 35 cents a gallon. 

    That's a snapshot of what life looked like as the tumultuous 1960s wound to a close and man was poised to set foot on the moon, fulfilling President John F. Kennedy's 1961 challenge to accomplish the feat "before this decade is out." 

    We invited baby boomers in the University of Maryland Eastern Shore's universe to share recollections about July 20, 1969.  Here are their memories: 


    On the day of the moon landing, my mind was far removed from the event.   My (high school) graduating class of 1969 had just completed its commencement exercises two months earlier.  

    We were the final class to graduate from all-black Somerset High - now Kiah Hall - on the UMES campus.  Not only were my thoughts focused on the closing of our beloved school, but also (wondering) what was in store for me after the summer was over. 

    That evening, my father mentioned he was going to watch a man walking on the moon.  Our old television set was blurry and difficult to see.  We used a clothes hanger for the antenna so we could actually see the picture.

    He and I sat in the living room of our four-room house along with my mother, four brothers and sister.  The discussion centered on whether the astronauts had actually reached the moon, or was it staged.  After watching for an hour or so, we somewhat concluded it was a fact, that someone had actually walked on the moon. Not everyone in the family was convinced, however.  

    I must admit I was that someone - until I saw pictures in the newspaper the next day or so, along with the news reporting by Walter Cronkite. 

    Kirkland Hall, retired UMES kinesiology professor; 1974 alumnus


    I recall struggling to stay awake at my aunt's house watching it on a black and white TV.  It seemed the astronauts would never come out of the lunar module.  We were wondering if Neil Armstrong might sink into the fine lunar dust despite the spacecraft landing without problems.  The landing was an event that brought wonder as well as hope to my 10-year-old mind.  

    The year before, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were shot to death, a tumultuous period to grasp for any fourth-grader. 

    Those two historically jarring events along with the increasing divide in the nation regarding the Vietnam War along with fleeing as a (military) family from Tripoli, Libya during the (1967) Arab-Israeli Six Day War made me wonder if the adults really knew what they were doing.  

    The Beatles were the only constant I thought back then.  The U.S. flag planted on the lunar surface brought hope that we as a nation would figure things out and the adults could be trusted. 

    Jim Bresette, associate professor & associate dean, School of Pharmacy


    I was living in New York, where I was born and raised.  I had recently turned 19 and was off from college for the summer, working a summer job and driving a beautiful light blue Ford Galaxy XL with a white convertible top.  I was spending some of my social time meeting up with my cousins and driving to (Long Island's) Rockaway Beach for a fun night out. 

    On the day of the moon walk, anticipating the big event, we jumped into my convertible and drove to one of our favorite haunts, Fitzgerald's.  Our excitement grew as the time drew closer for the actual walk; everyone was in a festive mood. 

    When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin actually stepped onto the moon's surface, I was standing on top of a bar stool yelling and cheering along with the couple of hundred patrons in Fitzgerald's.  It was a great day to be an American! 

    Marianne Hollerbach, administrative assistant, UMES Career and Technology Education program - Baltimore Museum of Industry


    What I remember most about the lunar landing is - I didn't get to see it!  I was recovering from a strange bug bite the night before, which required some pretty heavy-duty prescription medication.  Try as I might, I simply could not stay awake. 

    It seems I've watched the video replay a million times, but that's not the same as watching it live with millions of others.  As a person who became a journalist, it's always been unbelievable to me that I slept through the biggest news story of my lifetime. 

    Marilyn Buerkle, instructor, Department of English & Modern Languages


    I watched the landing on my grandmother's black and white Zenith TV, surrounded by immediate and extended family members.  This was in Brewster, Mass. on Cape Cod.  I was 17 and about to enter my senior year in high school.  I really don't remember much about the moment, except that the room was very quiet. 

    Being on Cape Cod, the landing happened two days after Ted Kennedy's car accident that killed Mary Jo Kopechne.  The local news media was going nuts over that incident.  It made for a mind-boggling juxtaposition of tragedy and hope. 

    Gerry Weston, general manager WESM 91.3 FM


    I remember coming home from playing basketball at our local community center and watching a special report from CBS News with my father.  I remember hearing (anchorman) Walter Cronkite say, “Armstrong is on the moon! Neil Armstrong, 38-year-old American, standing on the surface of the moon!” 

    It was Armstrong's crowning achievement when he became the first human to set foot on the moon and uttered the immortal words: "That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.”  As did every American, my heart soared. 

    This also was a period of extreme emotional contradictions.  My heart sank several days later when I heard heavy weight boxing champion Muhammad Ali was convicted of evading the military draft after refusing to be inducted into the U.S. Army. 

    Two years earlier, Ali applied for an exemption as a conscientious objector, but was denied.  He was stripped of his fighting license and title. He returned to the ring in 1970, and his conviction was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1971. 

    Both events made a lasting impression on me and demonstrate how “ordinary people can do extraordinary things.”  Both exemplify why scientific innovation and a willingness to stand up for basic human values are necessary to maintain a great and progressive nation. 

    Dr. Bryant C. Mitchell, professor, Department of Business, Management & Accounting


    EDT 10:56:15 (p.m.) ... standing … too nervous to sit with my aunt, Gwendolyn Kiah Redding, at her home in Wilmington, DE watching TV. 

    I was a very young newspaper reporter for the Wilmington News-Journal; (I) must've worked day side because if (I was) on my usual 10 pm - 6 am shift, (I) would've been in the newsroom.  Aunt Gwen and I could only hug and cry; transfixed by events on that little screen... 

    Bill Jones, 1978 alumnus


    Like many college students, I worked while in school.  The job I had that summer was overnight dispatcher at Ohio University's police department.  I had worked the night prior to the moon landing and then drove about four hours to Youngstown, Ohio with my girlfriend to her parent's house.  By the time of the landing, I was exhausted by lack of sleep, but determined to stay awake to watch the historic event. 

    We watched on a 13-inch black and white set, transfixed by the scene unfolding in front of our eyes.  As a radio/television major, I was curious about the technical details of getting a video signal from the moon to the earth.  I later learned the technical challenges of getting that signal were nearly as difficult as getting the men on the moon itself. 

    I crashed for about 15 hours of sleep after that really long day.  I can only imagine that Neil Armstrong (a fellow Ohio native) crashed heavily after his exciting day, too. 

    Bill Brophy,  digital media production coordinator


    We had one black and white television, small and aqua blue.  My parents woke me up for the special occasion.  I was standing next to my mother, leaning against her legs.  We were holding hands, squeezing them tighter and tighter.  I didn't realize until after Armstrong's first steps, that we had also been holding our breath. 

    Elissa Gordon, administrative assistant, Center for International Education


    At the time, I was working at Peninsula General Hospital in Salisbury as an orderly, as they used to call it in those days. (The late) Virginia Layfield (a widely respected administrator) was my supervisor. 

    I usually worked the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift, so I was at home with my brother (Norman) and sister (Evelyn).  We watched it on a black-and-white television. 

    Up until that time, you would never, ever believe something like that could happen.  I couldn't help but remember that old childhood rhyme that went “the cow jumped over the moon.” 

    We were more concerned about things like being ready for civil defense if there was some kind of emergency. 

    We sat there and watched the astronaut climb down the ladder and jump onto the ground. It didn't seem real. 

    I remember we all went outside to see if we could (possibly) see something if we looked at the moon - knowing we couldn't. 

    John Tilghman,  residence life area director


    And, one more for good measure

    I'm not old enough to have been a witness to the actual event, but am still awestruck when I see and read accounts of that mission.  The moon landing and other missions fueled my passion for astronomy and aerospace.  Sorry I missed out on the heady days of early space flight.  And just think ... humans had only been flying just a little over 60 years during that time!

    Brian Daniels, WESM broadcaster