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Astronaut's brother shares memories

Staff writer

If you knew the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, it’s not difficult to see why he was selected as commander of the historic Apollo 11 mission that both landed and returned July 20, 1969.

With the 50th anniversary of the landing weeks away, Neil Armstrong’s brother, Marion County resident Dean, spoke Sunday afternoon at Marion’s community center. Marion’s Public Library organized the event.

In an interview with Marion High School history teacher Grant Thierolf, Dean shared memories of his life with his famed aviator brother before a large, curious crowd.

Growing up all over Ohio during the 1930s, the Armstrongs had a tough time.

“Life was hard,” Dean said. “We had to work, we didn’t have any play time, or any extra food. That’s just the way it was, we didn’t have extra things. We weren’t poor, but we didn’t have any money.”

One thing that didn’t change, though, was his brother’s obsession with the sky.

At the age of 2 Neil took in his first air show. Even at an early age, his abilities to think things through and experiment were notable.

Neil would engineer model airplanes to make them fly farther, faster, and higher.

Dean was left as Neil’s ‘gopher’, often having to scrounge up parts in order for the planes to do so.

Neil’s brilliance both in academics and flying took center stage as an early teen with Neil becoming a pilot before getting a driver’s license, and graduating high school at age 16.

By the time Dean graduated high school in 1952, Neil had already flown 38 missions during the Korean War, while stationed onboard the USS Essex.

Despite being shot down in Korea, Neil and the Essex returned to California in 1952.

“The day I graduated, I hitchhiked all the way to California from Ohio,” Dean said.

By 1957, the space race between the United States and the then-Soviet Union was just beginning with Russia sending Sputnik into space.

In order to become an astronaut and eventually the first man on the moon, Neil had to endure grueling physical workouts both underwater and in the weight room.

Neil was selected as the Apollo 11 commander in December of ’68. He logged more hours on the lunar landing terrain vehicle than other astronauts and had previous experience in the Gemini 8 program in 1966.

On launch day July 16, Dean and his family were in the VIP section about a half mile away from the Saturn rocket.

Right beside them sat America’s hero of the skies from 1927, Charles Lindbergh and his wife Ann.

“He told me all about Neil, and his experience with him,” Dean said of Lindbergh. “It was wonderful.”

Dean said he wasn’t worried about the mission being successful. Once Mike Collins, Buzz Aldrin, and Neil landed in the Indian Ocean, joy overtook the world.

After becoming the first men to walk on the moon, the trio went on a 26-country tour where the world celebrated their historic achievement.

“To Neil, he was just doing his job,” Dean said. “He did it by keeping his cool, and thinking things through. That helped him as an astronaut and as a human being. I’m proud of my brother.”

Last modified July 1, 2019

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