Neil Armstrong, in the lunar module in 1969 during Apollo 11. (Photo from NASA)
An American hero will be memorialized tonight in his hometown of Wapakoneta, Ohio, and the UCC congregation in which he grew up will play a part in recognizing the life and accomplishments of Neil Armstrong.
The outdoor service for Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, begins at 8:30 p.m., and the Rev. Jeff Davis, the new pastor at St. Paul UCC in Wapakoneta, hopes there's a clear view of the sky. "I'm expecting a lot of people to turn out because he was a favorite son [of Wapakoneta]," said Davis, who expects the service will last about 45 minutes.
Armstrong died Saturday, Aug. 25, in Cincinnati. He was 82.
The Armstrong Museum in Wapakoneta and the local historical society quickly organized the event, and Davis has been asked to say a few words. "I assume it's because I'm the pastor of the church he grew up in," said Davis, who will connect how we can achieve our dreams by allowing God to guide us, and how Armstrong walked through life with God at his side.
Davis says the Armstrong family joined St. Paul UCC in 1944, when Neil was 14 years old, and his sister was married at the church. The Armstrong family also attended other Ohio UCC congregations in St. Mary's and Upper Sandusky, but always thought of Wapakoneta as home.
"The congregation and the community are proud of him. We'll celebrate not just who he was as an astronaut, but who he was as a person," Davis said.
Armstrong always considered himself a reluctant American hero, stating publicly he was just doing his job. Someone described Armstrong as being down-to-earth to Davis. "That was an interesting thing. I never thought that's something you'd say about the first man on the moon," Davis said.
The church custodian recently went into the basement and found a prayer sign displayed during Armstrong's historic 1969 lunar trip. There were constant vigils during the Apollo 11 mission – from liftoff on July 16 until splashdown in the Pacific Ocean July 24. Armstrong was the crew's commander, traveling with astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.
Some who knew Armstrong personally will share their memories tonight of one of America's greatest pioneers, and the family will read their statement, and ask the crowd to remember Armstrong: "Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink."