More moon memories: Readers recall the lunar landing

The Apollo 11 lunar landing of July 20, 1969, was etched in history as one of humankind’s most impressive achievements. Today, we continue with more memories of the moon landing from readers. You can read our previous instalment here.

While working on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier HMCS Bonaventure, young sailor Greg Mackenzie ran down to the mess to fetch some gloves.

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“When I got there our TV was on and Neil Armstrong was on the ladder about to descend to the moon’s surface.”

The Courtenay man had just sat down to watch when one of the flight deck chiefs barged in. “He started to give me hell for goofing off when he saw what was on and sat down himself. Together we watched the whole thing.”

Mackenzie dedicated this story to Chief Petty Officer Gerald Labrie.

Pilot Allen J. Sundvall rushed home from the RCAF base at Bagotville, Que., to watch the moon landing.

Alas, instead of offering coverage of the space mission, the single channel available in the Saguenay Valley was showing a French-language version of the cartoon Casper the Friendly Ghost. The Nanaimo man still sounds frustrated.

Joanne McGachie’s parents thought late-night Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, would be too chaotic to take their 10-year-old to the U.S. Embassy, where the landing was to be shown on a big screen outside.

So, in a city in which few homes had a telephone, let alone a TV, she was packed off to a friend’s house for a sleepover while her parents and two older sisters headed for the embassy grounds.

“As it turned out, they soon ran into an American friend who whisked them all into the embassy itself to watch the whole thing on their television, in style and comfort,” the Victoria woman writes.

It would be years before McGachie saw footage of the landing.

“I didn’t forgive my folks for months.”

Having chartered a boat to explore B.C.’s central coast, Tricia Horne and family experienced history in splendid isolation.

“The night of the moon landing we were the only boat anchored in a cove in either Rivers or Smith Inlet,” the Victoria woman says. Gazing up at the moon and a sky full of star filled them with wonder. “Together we whispered: ‘There’s a man walking up there.’ It was a huge emotional moment.”

Saanich’s Tom Hall had a similarly isolated view, his from atop a peak he had climbed in Golden Ears Provincial Park.

“There we were, perched atop a rock pinnacle, gazing at the moon all night long, imagining the landing taking place and thinking about all the ways it would change things forever.

“Some would say we missed seeing the landing. I would say we had the best seats in the house.”

At nine, Tony Gurr was mesmerized by space. He knew the names of every American astronaut (and some Russian ones) and pored over the space-mission photos is his father’s Life magazines.

When his dad rented a portable colour TV for Apollo 11, “seeing the huge red rocket gantry connected to the gleaming Saturn V on launch Pad 39A staggered my young mind.” So did the idea that he was going to see humans walk on the moon, live.

Good thing that his parents woke him to watch the moon walk, then. The Victorian still remembers the fuzzy images as Armstrong stepped down, still remembers Walter Cronkite joking about what NASA would do if aliens suddenly appeared.

“My inner nine-year-old still wonders at the incredible cosmos around us.”

From the day five-year-old Rick Anthony watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin land in the lunar dust, he was fascinated by space. “I would later lay in my backyard and pretend I could see the astronauts walking on the moon.”

In 2001, as a Victoria police officer selected for helicopter duty with a UN peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, he actually met Aldrin, who signed Anthony’s flight helmet.

“It got many looks and comments when I wore it on flight missions, usually: ‘Holy cow, is that Buzz Aldrin’s autograph?’ It still sits in place of honour in my man cave.”

Darralyn Bonnor, her husband and four sons had spent a month camping across Canada in a van. Not on this day, though: “We were racing toward Vancouver in order to check in at a motel to see the astronauts land on the moon.”

They made it just in time, only to — eek! — see the television screen turn black. “Frantically we found the proprietor and he jerry-rigged the TV so that it came on and we did see the moon landing after all,” the Oak Bay woman writes.

Eleven-year-old Joanne Perry and her brother needed a nudge from their grandfather to quit playing on the carpet of his Vista Heights home and pay attention to the unfolding history.

“He told us we would always need to remember where we were when we saw this. He explained to us what we were watching and explained everything to us as we were watching it.

“I was a bit scared watching it once I understood that the astronauts were actually on the moon. At the same time I became focused and did not miss anything.”

Jean Wood (Jean Weir in 1969) wasn’t happy that the cabin at the Shuswap Lake resort her family was heading for wouldn’t have a TV on which to watch the lunar landing.

“We couldn’t believe it when we pulled in to the resort to find the owners had run multiple extension cords end-to-end all the way down from their house to the beach fire pit to hook up a rabbit-eared TV,” the Victoria woman recalls.

“It was only 15 inches or so, but they wanted their guests to be able to watch everything as it unfolded.

“We missed the Eagle’s landing but were able to watch Neil Armstrong take that step off the ladder, though I do remember people saying: ‘What did he say?’ ”

There was no TV for Stasia Hartley, who was having her appendix removed at Sidney’s Resthaven hospital. The staff were so excited, though, that the eight-year-old figured she would never forget where she was on the historic day “even though I think I was more excited about the prospect of having an ice cream cone that my parents had promised to bring me.”

Gazing at the waxing crescent moon high over the water, David Vest sat on the Brittany cliffside on which he was camped and fumbled with his transistor radio, tuning in coverage of the moon landing.

“The French stations sounded like World Cup soccer matches when the home team scores: “Le voilà! Incroyable! Incroyable! Ils sont SUR LA LUNE!” The British reports were of course much calmer, in voices typically used for weather summaries: “One supposes that one might almost without exaggeration describe this moment as extraordinary.” A graduate student on summer holiday from my studies at Vanderbilt University, I had not until that moment imagined that “extraordinary” could be pronounced as a one-syllable word.

“Nowadays, I can sometimes be found parked along Dallas Road after dark, looking at the moon with binoculars, wondering if human beings will ever again do anything as impressive as walking on another world.”

Ann Wilmut, 23, didn’t expect the ferry from Port aux Basques, N.L., to North Sydney, N.S., to have TV reception.

“Imagine our surprise when we were able to watch the moon landing on a black and white television in the main lounge. The reception was poor, but we did see the landing and hear the famous words: ‘One small step for a man, one giant step for mankind.’ ”

The Oak Bay woman still has her ticket.

Commercial diver Stuart Ruff felt OK when he surfaced from a job near the Swartz Bay ferry docks, but as his girlfriend, Sue, drove him home, the 21-year-old began to suffer from what he suspected were the bends. Without proper decompression, bubbles were forming in his bloodstream.

That meant a sudden detour to the Navy’s diving unit in Colwood and a long period of isolation in the decompression chamber. “My only contacts were voice directions and questions coming through a speaker inside the tank, faces of the attending medical staff and the occasional reassuring smile from Sue,” he says.

“We missed the moon landing, but we will always have a story to tell about it — and we will tell it again next year when Susan and I celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary.”

Recent high school grad Kathryn Roberts and three friends were walking down Saanich’s Sinclair Road, heading for Gyro Beach, when a couple ran out of a house shouting that the moon landing was on and the young people needed to come in and watch.

“So, we did,” says the Brentwood Bay woman. “Four teenagers, who up until that moment were oblivious to the significance of what we were about to see, sat with two perfect strangers in their very small living room witnessing this historic sight. To this day, I am so grateful for their act of kindness at a moment which has now become sealed in time as it is a memory I will cherish forever.”

Bill Bonikowsky watched from his Toronto hospital bed, happy to take his mind off the next day’s shoulder surgery.

One things that still stands out for the Nanaimo man is the image of Armstrong’s footprints on the moon’s surface. “I had read that, because of the supposed age of the moon, some scientists estimated that there could be lunar dust to a depth of several metres. As I remember it, those footprints were imprinted in about one to two centimetres of dust. I was fascinated by that.”

Victoria’s Colin Wilson was a nine-year-old sitting in his grandfather’s lap when Armstrong set foot on the moon. “My grandfather was in awe. He told me the story of his older brother doubling him on the handlebars of a bicycle for five miles to see the first aircraft in Scotland.”

Margaret Hantiuk had just graduated from high school and was working for the summer at the Athabasca Hotel in Jasper, Alta. “I remember wearing a Canadian tartan skirt and white blouse as my waitress uniform. Everyone in the hotel was excited about the ‘walk on the moon’ that was about to happen and they all rushed out of the coffee shop to watch it on a small TV in the vast, dark hotel lobby, filled with stuffed moose, elk and bear heads.

“The event was so indicative of the era and my youth: the excitement of new adventure and discovery.”

Paul Arnold’s family was glued to the TV in their cottage at Ipperwash Beach on Lake Huron in Ontario. Only one problem: his sister Sharon needed to be home in Kitchener that night, but didn’t want to miss out on seeing history being made.

So they waited until the lunar module had landed and was secure, then jumped in 19-year-old Paul’s 1967 Plymouth Barracuda hatchback for their own rocket trip to Kitchener.

“We turned on our TV at home and watched as Neil Armstrong made his historic ‘One small step for a man … one giant leap for mankind’ statement. My sister and I embraced and exchanged tears of joy.”

Gail Pohl thought it pretty cool that moon walk made her 11th birthday special.

“They did it just for me! Or so I liked to think at the time.”

It was a less happy day for her father. “He had bet a schoolmate many years earlier, in the 1940s, that man wouldn’t walk on the moon in his lifetime. … He lost a whole dollar in the bet.”

A meet at Cowichan High meant Victoria Track Club coach Ed Fougner experienced Armstrong’s first step as part of a group huddled behind the stands on the west side of the track, listening to the radio. “It’s an experience I’ll never forget,” the Qualicum Beach man says. “Now almost every time I drive by the track I look over to the stands that are still there and say to my passenger: ‘That’s where I was on July 20, 1969.’ ”

Campbell River’s Hilda Shilliday remembers a 1950s university professor referring to something being “as unlikely to happen as a man on the moon.”

“I have thought of those words many times.”

In May 1969, Norm Carey, his wife and their baby headed to the Yukon for work — but when winter arrived in July they decided to head back to Vancouver island. “We bought a used Volkswagen and drove down the Alaska Highway,” says the Shawnigan Lake resident. “We slept in the car to save money in case we could not get a job right away. We splurged and got a hotel room on July 20 in Fort St. John just so we could watch the moon landing.

“Seven days of travelling and that was the only time we got a hotel, that was how important it was to us to seen the live video.”

Colin and Lois Allen were aboard the Federal Palm, a small passenger- and cargo-carrying vessel travelling from Trinidad to Kingston, Jamaica.

“We, together with a group of the ship’s officers, about 50 international cabin passengers and almost 200 West Indian deck passengers watched the epic event on a TV set up in the Federal Palm’s bar.”

The ship was later scrapped in Pusan, South Korea.

Joan and Graeme Mount arrived in Edinburgh just in time for a quick supper before watching the moon landing.

Graeme scanned the menu. Here’s his account of what happened next:

Seeing ‘pie’ and ‘ice cream,’ I said to Joan: “It’s been 10 days since we left Canada. Pie and ice cream would give a nice touch of home.”

I told our waitress: “For dessert, we would like pie and ice cream.”

The waitress answered: “We do not serve pie and ice cream.”

Pointing to the menu, I said: “It says ‘pie’ and it says ‘ice cream.’ ”

“Yes,” replied the waitress, “but they don’t go together.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because the pie is hot and the ice cream is cold.”

I said: “That sounds really good. Hot pie and cold ice cream.”

She said: “We’ve never served that before.”

I said: “How about starting now?”

She said: “But it’s mince pie.”

Thinking of what we have around Christmas, I said: “That’s wonderful! Hot mince pie and cold ice cream, in July!” Fortunately, Joan remembered that what she would have called ‘hamburger’ a Scottish friend had called ‘mince.’

I then asked the waitress: “Is there meat in that pie?” When she said “Yes,” I said: “Forget about the pie. Just give us ice cream.”

Joan and I returned to the hotel in time to watch the lunar landing.

When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, Ron Webber and his wife and two sons were camped at Sunny Shores Campground just outside Sooke listening to the radio broadcasting the landing. At that time, Webber’s youngest son, Todd, had only walked while hanging onto something solidly grounded.

At the very moment Armstrong said “one small step for man and one giant step for mankind,” Todd took his first unsupported steps and walked across the floor of Webber’s trailer.

“I felt joyful at that moment and knew Todd was destined for great things. He has never disappointed me.”

— Compiled by Jack Knox

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