It Happened One Night

Ruth Conn: The night that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon….The whole family went for icecream malts.  A night that contrasted (in my mind) to what was happening in the sky and what was happening in Clear Lake.  And who remembers Michael Collins-the guy who stayed and “steered” the ship.  And Serendipity

The launch of Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969 was the culmination of the challenge set forth by President John F. Kennedy and the final episode of the race to the moon. The mission spanned eight days, beginning on July 16 and ending with splashdown July 24 in the Pacific Ocean. Michael Collins orbited the moon in the command module, as Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin got to do the fun stuff. The Lunar Module, dubbed “the Eagle” detached from the command module and with the famous words, “The Eagle has landed,” the module touched down on the surface of the moon on July 20. The actual walk on the moon was July 21, with the words, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” said by Neil Armstrong as his foot touched the moondust.

On July 18, 1969, the reunion of the Boiler Room Girls was taking place on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts. The Boiler Room Girls were all campaign workers for Robert F. Kennedy during his truncated run for president. Later that night, under a waxing crescent moon, Ted Kennedy drove his 1967 Oldsmobile Delmont 88 off a wooden bridge, flipped the car into a shallow pond, and Mary Jo Kopechne died of suffocation in the submerged vehicle on July 19, 1969. Mary Jo’s body was returned to her parents, and the day of July 21, while the rest of America was watching the TV and the moon walk, Joseph and Gwen Kopechne spent the day making final funeral arrangements at the St. Vincent’s Roman Catholic Church in Plymouth, Pennsylvania. The service planned was a private affair. Only close family, friends and Kennedy members Ethel (Robert’s widow), Joan (Ted’s wife) and Ted attended.

The evening of July 21, 1969, 15 year old Ruth, her 13 year old sister, Jane, and their parents were sitting outside of the Ventura Dairy Inn. It was the end of a long day farming, sorting hogs and feeding livestock. Their older brother, John, was left at home to keep an eye on an ailing heifer. The treat was ice cream malts, melting fast in the hot, humid Iowa evening. A sliver of the moon was reflecting off the quiet waters of Clear Lake, the hum of insects hitting the purple glowing bug killer made up the background music. Ruth’s dad commented to no one in particular, “There are astronauts up there. Geeze, can you imagine?”

Pause. “Wow.”


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