'All That's Great About America': Nation Bids Neil Armstrong Farewell

Sep 13, 2012
Originally published on September 13, 2012 11:19 pm

Hundreds packed the Washington National Cathedral today to pay their respects to Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon.

Perhaps the most amazing tribute came from Eugene Cernan, the man who followed in Armstrong's footsteps and became the last man to walk on the moon during the 1972 Apollo 17 mission.

"He embodied all that is good and all that is great about America," Cernan said according to Reuters. "Neil, wherever you are, you again have shown us a way to the stars. As you soar through the heavens where even eagles dare not go, you can now truly put out your hand and touch the face of God."

As Korva wrote, Armstrong died last month at age 82. reports that today's memorial "brought together dignitaries, community and political leaders, Armstrong's family members, and members of the NASA family, including current and former astronauts."

One of the poignant details of the ceremony, is that on July of 1974, Armstrong along with Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin donated a piece of moon rock that is 3.6 billion years old to the Cathedral. The rock is now on display in one of the church's stained glass windows.

Tying the tribute together, Jazz vocalist Diana Krall sang "Fly Me to the Moon," which, as the Christian Science Monitor explains, was played on the moon during the Apollo 10 and Apollo 11 missions.

Reuters reports that overall, Armstrong was remembered as a "humble hero." Reuters adds:

"'We are standing on the shoulders of giants as we get ready to take the next steps into space,' said Bolden, a former astronaut.

"At the close of the service, Bolden presented Armstrong's wife, Carol, the flag that had flown at half staff over the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston on August 25, the day he died."

Armstrong will be buried at sea on Friday.

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This morning at the National Cathedral here in Washington D.C., a celebration of the life of a pioneer. Neil Armstrong died last month at the age of 82.


Friends, family and fellow astronauts gathered to honor the first man to walk on the moon, a man they called a true, if reluctant, American hero. Here's NASA administrator, Charles Bolden Jr.

CHARLES BOLDEN JR.: Neil will always be remembered for taking humankind's first small step on a world beyond our own. But it was courage, grace and humility he displayed throughout his life that lifted him above the stars.

CORNISH: Bolden pointed out a special, stained glass window in the cathedral. It holds a sliver of moon rock from the Apollo 11 mission presented years ago by Armstrong and his fellow astronauts.

JR.: It's a reminder, not only of their significant human accomplishment, but an acknowledgement that achievements are made possible through God's grace and guiding hand.

BLOCK: Astronaut Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, recounted Armstrong's childhood: growing up on a farm in middle America, delivering newspapers, shoveling snow, nurturing an early fascination with model airplanes.

GENE CERNAN: Once he had tasted flight, Neil's eyes turned skyward, and it was there that he always longed to be.

CORNISH: Cernan said little did Armstrong realize that his dream of soaring with the eagles would lead him to become the first human being to go where no human had gone before.

CERNAN: Neil, wherever you are up there, almost half a century later you have now shown once again the pathway to the stars. It's now for you a new beginning, but for us, I will promise you, it is not the end.


DIANA KRALL: (Singing) Fly me to the moon, and let me play among the stars. Let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars.

BLOCK: That's Diana Krall playing tribute to Neil Armstrong at the National Cathedral in Washington today. The late astronaut, who was also a Navy veteran, will be buried at sea tomorrow.


KRALL: (Singing) In other words, darling, kiss me. Fill my life with song...

CORNISH: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.