Boomers Watched As Mankind Took One Giant Leap

It was a summer Sunday, but one that was destined not to be just any summer Sunday. The air crackled with the excitement of an approaching storm, waiting with anticipation for the thunder that follows the lightning. Fifty years ago, on July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 was launched on its mission to land men on the moon. A few days earlier, Brother Boomer blasted off in his 1965 Ford Mustang, headed for Cape Canaveral. He was determined to see this spectacle for himself; the beginning of the most momentous space exploration mission to date. The remainder of the Mister Boomer household would have to settle for watching on TV via the three networks: ABC, CBS and NBC.

Brother Boomer did make it down to Florida and observed the Apollo 11 launch. If Mister B recalls correctly, he was somewhere around Daytona Beach. From his vantage point, Brother Boomer watched as the Saturn V, the tallest and most powerful rocket ever built, spewed fire and smoke into the blue skies, arcing ever higher, until the first stage booster jettisoned off and fell into the ocean.

Ever since the first capsule rocketed into space, boomers were fascinated by the wonder and power of the booster rockets that propelled the brave astronauts into the unknown. Kits and models of all types were sold, including a replica of the Saturn V rocket that would hurl Apollo 11 into its trajectory to the moon. Brother Boomer had built his own Saturn V model kit, and now he was seeing firsthand the majesty of the real thing. Brother Boomer had a couple of model rockets. Mister B recalls one that was fueled by packing baking soda into the base. When Brother B dropped vinegar into the proper channel, the resulting chemical reaction sent the plastic rocket 30 feet into the air.

Having cleared the first phase of his mission to witness history, Brother B’s next phase was to return to the Midwest in time to see the first moon walk on TV. He docked with the home mothership on July 20.

Meanwhile, Mister Boomer does not recall any details of the early part of the day itself. It was a Sunday, so the family undoubtedly went to church in the morning, and like usual, visited both his grandmothers. His grandfathers had passed away within one year of each other in the early sixties, but the habitual Sunday visits to their homes continued. On returning home, he may have set out to meet neighborhood kids to play a game of catch, or perhaps watch someone launch a model rocket.

By 4 pm, however, Mister B knew exactly where he was: in front of the TV with his entire family, watching the live coverage. The streets were deserted as everyone had retreated inside to watch the drama unfold. Michael Collins, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin reached their destination on July 20, 1969. As Collins positioned the command module Columbia into lunar orbit, Armstrong and Aldrin climbed into the lunar module and took it to the surface of the moon. At 4:17 pm EDT, Neil Armstrong announced to a waiting world, “The Eagle has landed.”

It would be six hours later before Neil Armstrong climbed down the lunar module’s ladder to take the first step any person had done on the surface of the moon. At Mister Boomer’s house, a collective sigh and a grin came over his family when the Eagle touched down. His mother prepared dinner in the intervening time. It was a rare occasion when the television was left on while the family ate, but this was no ordinary Sunday, and no one wanted to miss a minute. Once dinner was consumed, the family all retired back to the living room to watch the coverage. Finally, the time came, and Mister B’s family watched a scratchy black & white picture of Neil Armstrong stepping off the ladder to utter his now famous quote, which he maintained throughout his life was misquoted due to a gap in the voice transmission. His correct quote added an “a,” to be ,“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

In 2006, NASA scientists analyzed the audio recordings of the moment, and found evidence of a 35-millisecond blip between “for” and “man,” long enough to have contained the missing “a.”

Brother Boomer recently told Mister B that he was so fascinated by the Space Race that he wanted to make his career in aeronautics, with a goal of working on space vehicles. Unable to gain access to relevant college courses in his area, he became a mechanical engineer instead. How many times did that story of inspiration repeat itself to shape the careers of other boomers?

There are many historical events that occurred during the boomer years, but the moon landing has to be at or near the top of the list. As a result, every boomer can answer, “Where were you when men walked on the moon?”

What’s your moon story, boomers?

Boomers Got Vaccinated

In January of 2019, a national health emergency was declared by Washington related to a measles outbreak. The disease was thought to be eradicated in the U.S. in 2000, due to five decades of routine vaccinations, but as of this date nearly 400 cases have been reported in fifteen states. All of those states allow for refusal to get vaccinated based on personal or religious beliefs.

This situation brought Mister Boomer back to the boomer years, when vaccines were a routine step for school-aged children. When it comes to vaccinations for boomers, our parents were whole-heartedly in favor of having their children vaccinated: They lived through decades of horrible diseases, and, by the time World War II arrived, the prevailing thought of the country was to trust science and get on with finding cures. Mister Boomer feels this was particularly prompted by the scourge of polio that gripped the world into the 1940s. Traced back as far as Ancient Egypt, polio was a crippling disease that inflicted tens of thousands of children each year. Some surmise the Tiny Tim character had polio in A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. For the parents of boomers, though, it was the fact that their president — Franklin Delano Roosevelt — had what was believed to be polio in his late teen years. He covered up his increasing inability to walk by holding himself up at sturdy podiums and the Secret Service was diligent in seeing that there were no photos taken of him in a wheelchair.

In 1937, Roosevelt founded the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (later known as the March of Dimes), specifically with the intent of producing a vaccine for polio. The parents of boomers recall that schoolchildren of their generation sent dimes to the White House, doing their part in the search for a cure. Perhaps that is the reason that Roosevelt’s portrait is on the ten cent coin? Boomers will also recall how, each March, teachers were each given a cardboard sign that had slots for dimes in them. The teacher would remind children to ask for a dime from their parents. One by one, children could approach the sign on the teacher’s desk and slide their dime into the cardboard slot.

Roosevelt didn’t live long enough to see the development of a vaccine for polio. There was an epidemic outbreak of polio in the U.S. in 1952. Parents were keeping their children from public places such as municipal swimming pools, as a near-national hysteria added pressure to quickly release a vaccine. Dr. Jonas Salk was given a patent for his vaccination in 1955. It quickly became standard for all boomer children to get the vaccine. Today many scientists are suggesting that FDR did not have polio at all, but probably Guillain-Barre Syndrome. No matter which, by the mid-50s, boomer children were being vaccinated against smallpox, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus and polio. It is more than likely the smallpox vaccination that gives boomers of a certain age that circular scar on their arm. The last case of smallpox was reported in Somalia in 1977. The U.S. stopped routine smallpox vaccinations in 1972, and the World Health Organization declared smallpox eradicated in 1980. No cases of polio have been reported in the U.S. since 1979.

The 1960s saw more advances in vaccinations for boomers. Vaccines for measles were being tested as far back as the 1920s, but it wasn’t until 1963 when an effective version was released to the public. Vaccinations for mumps followed in 1967, and rubella in 1969. The three were combined into one vaccine in 1970.

Mister Boomer’s family was inoculated with all the vaccinations that were available at the time, but Mister Boomer and his brother had both measles and chicken pox in the early 1960s before the measles vaccine was released. The brothers spent a week suffering the relentless itching and light sensitivity that comes with it, prompting them to be quarantined to their bedroom, with drapes drawn, while all the neighborhood kids were out enjoying the summer sun. Fortunately, both brothers recovered without any ill effects; on average there were 450 deaths due to measles reported each year in the decade 1953 to 1963, the year when the vaccine was first given.

How about you, boomers? Do you have a vaccination scar on your arm? Did your family talk about vaccinations?