In their own words: Sonoma County readers recall Apollo 11 touchdown
With the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing approaching July 20, 2019, we asked readers to share their memories of this historic event. Some had personal, family connections to NASA, complete with insider details and souvenirs, while others remembered it as a nail-biting, life-changing moment in front of a snowy black-and white television in 1969. The volume of responses was overwhelming, but we’ve shared some of our favorites here.
A chance meeting leads to the launch site
“I was a graduate student at Michigan State. I’m an English guy. I grew up I London. I came over here a number in the mid ‘60s ... I studied engineering and also physical education and bio engineering. I was at Michigan State working on my first master’s degree. It was during the mid term break. And I saw what was going on (with the moon launch) and thought I thought this would be an interesting thing to do. I had a little MGB convertible I brought over from England. And I went all the way down to Coco Beach. I had no money. I pull into a garage near the entrance to the Kennedy Space Center and this family asked where I was from. And the woman said, ‘Would you like to go and see the launch? I looked at her and said, ‘You’re crazy.’ But she said her husband works for the governor of Arkansas and one of her kids got sick and they had an extra pass. So I went in with her and. I was as close to the launch as anyone, including politicians and muckymucks and the press. NASA wouldn’t let anyone get any closer than 3 1/2 miles from the launch pad. I sat and watched the launch and then jumped back into my MGB and drove home to Michigan.”
-Jim Walton, Sebastopol
From the Wright Brothers to the moon in one day
"I was 10 years old and living in Virginia Beach, Virginia. My dad, who was a pilot in the Navy, took our family to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on the morning of the moon landing. We got to see the museum and how the Wright brothers were the 1st to fly their airplane invention on the beach.
I remember as we drove home listening to the news on the radio that the Eagle had landed on the moon. Later that night, we were encouraged to stay up very late to see the first walk on the moon on our grainy black and white TV screen. Mostly, I just remember struggling to stay awake on the east coast for the big event.
In thinking back about that day, it was only a few years ago that I fully realized the connection of Dad’s plan between us seeing the 1st airplane flight and 1st walking on the moon. What a cool thing my Dad did for us that historic day!"
‑ Cristi McMahan, Healdsburg
A grandfather’s wonder
"I remember watching the moon walk on TV. My Grandfather, who was 86, was so thrilled to see this and spoke of living from horse and buggy to a Man on the Moon. What I didn’t know at the time was that the company, Electro Engineering in San Leandro, where my mother worked in the office, was making parts for the Apollo Space Program. There was a branch factory in Forestville which I knew about. Mr. Philips was the engineer and her boss. His wife was my junior high algebra teacher in San Leandro. When I moved to Sonoma County, their building in Forestville was where the Laser Craft was housed in the 1980s. My Grandfather was one of the first veterinarians in the U.S. and I suppose he knew about what was being made where my mother worked. It may have added to his thrill. He died a couple of months later, and the anticipation may have kept him going. It was huge for him as I recall."