James Lovell Reflects on Death of Friend Neil Armstrong

When Neil Armstrong became first person to walk on moon, a Lake Forest resident was his backup. They were friends for 50 years.

Some of the most profound thoughts on the death Saturday of Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the moon, came from his colleague and friend of 50 years, James Lovell of Lake Forest.

“He is the epitome of what America stands for,” Lovell said Saturday of Armstrong, 82, as people offered accolades from The White HouseNASAArmstrong’s alma mater of Purdue and elsewhere.

Lovell was home in Lake Forest when he got the word his close friend of 50 years and the man known worldwide for being the first to set foot on the moon in July, 1969, had died.

Lovell had seen Armstrong only about a month and a half ago at Armstrong’s home in Ohio where they had lunch together.  It was the final meeting of the two men, whose friendship had formed in the 1960s as they were part of the second group of American astronauts in the Gemini program, the predecessor to Project Apollo, which was charged with a moon landing.

Lovell was in fact, Armstrong’s backup on Apollo 11, that most famous of all space missions. “I always kidded him that I was trying to break his legs so I could fly the flight but he was too healthy,” Lovell joked on Saturday.

Moon Landing Was Complete American Teamwork

Trying to assess Armstrong’s legacy starts with the ten words he spoke over 43 years ago as Armstrong stepped off the ladder of his space ship onto the moon’s surface and is now part of American lexicon, but Lovell looks back at his old friend another way.

“His legacy is an example if we want to accomplish a project as the American people that we must work together as a team with good leadership and be able to do that. The Apollo program is an example of what you can do if you have the will and given the authority to do something.

“It was hundreds of companies working together to accomplish a single goal. We could do that today with some of the major projects that we always seem to have controversy about and never get anyplace.”

Lovell was also asked to try and rank Armstrong’s place in U.S. history.

“What else happened in the 20th Century?” Lovell asked. “We’ve had several wars of course. We had a lot of technical achievements but landing on the moon is an example of what you can accomplish if you put your mind it.”

Armstrong Was There For Lovell Family in Time of Need

As for his aborted moon mission of Apollo 13, Lovell said a picture that remains in his study is that of Armstrong watching the splashdown of the astronauts with the Lovell family.

“He was very supportive,” Lovell recalled of the aftermath of the mission that nearly ended in catastrophe.

Lovell and Armstrong subsequently sat down and discussed what happened and eventually discovered the cause of the accident.

After both men left the space program, Armstrong was rarely seen in public, forgoing what likely would have been millions of dollars in marketing opportunities, instead choosing to avoid the limelight.

“He was kind of quiet, but when he spoke, people listened,” Lovell said. “He always felt that his going to the moon was nothing unusual and that any one of us could do that and he was just doing his job. He didn’t want to exploit his being the first on the moon. He just wanted to be part of the team that helped get him to the moon and get the other people to the moon.”

In recent years, both men were concerned about the NASA budget as the Space Shuttle program came to an end. “He was saddened that we seem to be taking a different direction in our space activities,” Lovell said.

Colleen Berbeka August 26, 2012 at 12:34 PM
My son Charlie did a book report and poster board on Neil Armstrong 2 years ago at GMS and we learned some very interesting things about him, his professional life as well as his private life. We spent a lot of time on the project and am a lil teary eyed this morning. One small step for man, Neil! God Bless. :( small step for man, Neil! God. Bless!
Joe L Suttie August 26, 2012 at 03:15 PM
Daniel Chapman August 26, 2012 at 05:25 PM
The only problem with this story is the number of words is more than 10!!!
RB August 26, 2012 at 05:28 PM
I read that centuries from now, two events from our recent generations time on earth will be remembered. One, the Atom bomb and two, man landing on the moon. I feel fortunate to have watched the landing as a teenager, having seen Sputnik in the sky years earlier. Armstrong was a true hero and not a blow hard. If you should have the opportunity, the decaying Mercury, Gemini and Apollo launch pads are still visible on tours at Kennedy Space Center (the then and now tour). It's a shame we did not preserve them, see them before they crumble away.
Walter White August 26, 2012 at 06:41 PM
Why is that?
Mwine Allan August 26, 2012 at 06:51 PM
That's the way it is RIP Amen
Nightcrawler August 26, 2012 at 07:02 PM
That's the length of his attention span.
Mwine Allan August 26, 2012 at 07:03 PM
This world is not our home the tym for us is also near ARMSTRONG RIP Amen God bless u.......!!
Jack H August 27, 2012 at 01:30 AM
Mission accomplished. Both of these guys did a super job for this country and deserve our respect. Thank you for your service, and Niel may you rest in peace.
Tony Kovacs August 27, 2012 at 03:51 AM
A hero for his time and all time. An exceptional American in an exceptional country! Symbol of what a determined people can accomplish.
Carolyn Szymanski August 27, 2012 at 03:11 PM
I warched the landing on the moon and I can still remember the tears in my eyes when he spoke those famous words. Too bad people today don't emulate the real heroes like Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Lovell and others who prefer to stay in the background instead of constantly flauntlng their accomplishments. Yes, I mean being humble. And also as Mr. Lovell said - a nation that works together can accomplish anything and overcome any adversity.
Ana Draa August 27, 2012 at 04:25 PM
Blue skies and tailwinds to a true American hero
Marvin Rubenstein August 27, 2012 at 09:32 PM
As an 18 year old college student covering the launch for the College Press Wire Network, I was at the Cape crew quarters when the Apollo 11 astronauts walkedout to the transport van. At the time I could not believe that I was watching people go to the moon. Someone said today that as long as history books are written, the name of Neil Armstrong will be in them. Could not state it any better than that. What an extraordinary man and pilot. What an extraordinary time it was.
Audrey August 29, 2012 at 05:36 PM
I remember watching the moon landing - What a triumph! It takes a special kind of courage to take that "giant leap for mankind" that Neil Armstrong took. A great American, and a great role model for us today.
Anitra Willis August 29, 2012 at 08:25 PM
Nicely said! Thank you.
Daniel Chapman September 04, 2012 at 02:19 AM
Trying to assess Armstrong’s legacy starts with the ten words he spoke over 43 years ago as Armstrong stepped off the ladder of his space ship onto the moon’s surface and is now part of American lexicon, but Lovell looks back at his old friend another way. It says in this paragraph ten words that he spoke when he first stepped onto the moon. The word count was 11 not 10. I know, I was listening when he first said that line!
Nightcrawler September 04, 2012 at 02:29 AM
Sorry, Daniel. I obviously didn't get your intent. My mistake.
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