CINCINNATI – Neil Armstrong was a humble hero who saw himself as a team player and never capitalized on his celebrity as the first man to walk on the moon, mourners said Friday outside a private service attended by fellow space pioneers, including his two crewmates on the historic Apollo 11 mission.
Hundreds of people attended a closed service for Armstrong at a private club in suburban Cincinnati. A national memorial service has been scheduled for Sept. 12 in Washington, although no other details have been released on the service or burial plans for Armstrong. He died Saturday at age 82.
Among 10 former astronauts attending Friday were John Glenn and Armstrong’s crew for the 1969 moon landing, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.
You’ll never get a hero, in my view, like Neil Armstrong, said Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders, who praised Armstrong after the service for his wisdom and humility in the way he handled becoming a global icon. It’s going to be hard to top.
America has truly lost a legend, said Apollo astronaut Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon.
Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, eulogized Armstrong as a reluctant hero and said afterward the service was a mix of emotion and humor, with Armstrong’s two sons talking about him as a father and grandfather.
He was the embodiment of everything this nation is all about, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. Armstrong, he said, had a courageous drive for exploration while being an incredibly humble man who probably wouldn’t have wanted all the attention of Friday’s service.
It included a Navy ceremonial guard, a bagpiper corps and songs including When the Saints Go Marching In. Four Navy fighter planes flew over at the end of the service, one flying upward in tribute to Armstrong, a former Navy pilot who flew combat missions in Korea.
Raised in Wapakoneta, Ohio, Armstrong developed an early love for aviation.
He commanded the Gemini 8 mission in 1966 and Apollo 11’s historic moon landing on July 20, 1969. As a worldwide audience watched on TV, Armstrong took the step on the lunar surface he called one giant leap for mankind.
Juri Taalman, 78, said he made a special trip from Hartford, Conn., just to stand across the road from the club where the service was held, in tribute to Armstrong.
He said he and his wife were on their honeymoon in Amsterdam the day of the moon landing. He recalled hotel guests watching Armstrong’s first steps together on television, and an Englishman lifting his glass in a toast to all mankind!
Taalman’s voice cracked as he discussed his visit.
I just think a really great man has passed, and the world is poorer for it, he said.
Earlier Friday, Cernan and Apollo 13 commander James Lovell spoke at a Cincinnati hospital to help launch a children’s health fund in Armstrong’s memory.
Cernan and Lovell recounted visiting U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan with Armstrong, saying he always had an inspirational effect when meeting troops, schoolchildren and other admirers around the world.
Lovell said Armstrong was a great American who never capitalized on his celebrity and just wanted to be a team player. While Armstrong had said any of the astronauts could have been the first to walk on the moon, Lovell and Cernan said Armstrong was the right choice because of the way he handled suddenly becoming an icon.
There’s nobody that I know of that could have accepted the challenge and responsibility that came with being that with more dignity than Neil Armstrong, Cernan said.