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A Walk on the Moon

by Paul Deschenes
July 20, 2019

Where were you when ...? Some historical events and personal milestones have more significance than others, as do certain anniversaries, such as 1st, 25th, and 50th. Two significant historical and personal events coincided/collided for me on Sunday, July 20, 1969. It was my first full day in the Army and an earthling walked on the Moon. 

Where were you when …? Some historical events and personal milestones have more significance than others, as do certain anniversaries, such as 1st, 25th, and 50th. We honored one such event last month on the 75th anniversary of D-Day. I was not alive then, but to date myself, I was a senior in high school when President Kennedy was assassinated and a senior at Boston College when MLK and RFK were killed.

I was living in Holliston on Turner Road when our Moon Tree, which is alive and appears to be well to my untrained eye, was planted next to the police station by the Holliston Garden Club in 1982, but I don’t remember it happening (http://www.hollistonreporter.com/article/4941/The-Holliston-Moon-Tree.html, Paul Saulnier, Feb 2011 and http://www.hollistonreporter.com/article/14967/holliston-s-moon-tree-.html, Walter Thornton, Feb 2019).

Two significant historical and personal events coincided/collided for me on Sunday, July 20, 1969 - the day after I was ordered “to present” myself to my local Selective Service System board at 6:30 a.m.in Quincy, Massachusetts. From there I would be transported via bus to the Induction Station in South Boston. Yes, I was going to be drafted, and sure enough, on July 19, 1969, I became a soldier in the United States Army, which was not on my list of “things to do” after graduating college. Becoming a soldier was truly a life-changing event. I remember getting on the bus (definitely not a luxury coach) shortly after being sworn in and then riding through the night to the Reception Center at Fort Dix, New Jersey, where I would receive Basic Combat Training for the next eight weeks.

At 4:00 a.m. on the morning of Sunday, July 20th, we inductees exited the bus at our destination. We quickly learned the purpose and significance of large white dots painted four across, row by row, on the asphalt in front of us: “One man to a dot and move up to the next one when it becomes available,” we were told. Nice organizational tool for large numbers of individuals unfamiliar with what to expect. We had breakfast. We were issued clothing and bedding. We got some sleep. We were woken up and told not to leave the barracks except for meals in the mess hall. We also were informed we were on our own for the next 24 hours because our sergeant had a weekend pass and wouldn’t be back until Monday.

At the time, I was keenly aware of what was scheduled for Sunday, July 20th. As you probably know by now, Apollo 11 had launched from Kennedy Space Center earlier in the week on its flight to the Moon. On the 19th it had entered into its orbit around the heavenly orb so familiar to us in the night sky. Its mission was to culminate with a fellow earthling stepping onto an alien landscape – a unique event in human history I did not want to miss seeing. After dinner, I decided to find a TV and return to the barracks after the first footprint in moon dust was made. And that is what I did. The descent kept being postponed and it was getting late. But I stayed. Sure enough, there was no one in charge when I returned. I had envisioned being accused of leaving my post on my first day in the Army, but I would not, could not, be denied. The rest, as they say, is history.

And so, I remember where I was when Neil Armstrong descended the lunar module’s ladder and placed his foot on the gray, barren, dusty surface of the Moon at 10:56 p.m. EDT. The TV I was looking at was a black-and-white console in a Fort Dix rec room. I don’t remember the brand.

So, if you are of sufficient age, where were you 50 years ago today (Saturday, July 20, 1969) when a human first walked on the Moon?  Your comments are invited. Holliston Public Library has arranged a display to commemorate the exploits of the Apollo 11 astronauts and NASA.

Finally, another town-specific and personally memorable anniversary looms at the end of this month. It will have been 20 years since The Wall that Heals, The Vietnam Moving Wall, made a visit to Holliston.

 

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Comments (1)

Thank you, Dad, for writing and sharing! It sounds like it was more than a memorable day for you, and obviously others. Thank you for sharing so people who weren't alive yet, or too young to remember, can better understand this slice of history.

- Sarah Deschenes | 7/20/19 5:00 PM

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