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In their own words: Sonoma County readers recall Apollo 11 touchdown

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To read the full story about the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, click here.

With the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing approaching July 20, 2019, we asked readers to share their memories of this historic event. Some had personal, family connections to NASA, complete with insider details and souvenirs, while others remembered it as a nail-biting, life-changing moment in front of a snowy black-and white television in 1969. The volume of responses was overwhelming, but we’ve shared some of our favorites here.

A chance meeting leads to the launch site

“I was a graduate student at Michigan State. I’m an English guy. I grew up I London. I came over here a number in the mid ‘60s ... I studied engineering and also physical education and bio engineering. I was at Michigan State working on my first master’s degree. It was during the mid term break. And I saw what was going on (with the moon launch) and thought I thought this would be an interesting thing to do. I had a little MGB convertible I brought over from England. And I went all the way down to Coco Beach. I had no money. I pull into a garage near the entrance to the Kennedy Space Center and this family asked where I was from. And the woman said, ‘Would you like to go and see the launch? I looked at her and said, ‘You’re crazy.’ But she said her husband works for the governor of Arkansas and one of her kids got sick and they had an extra pass. So I went in with her and. I was as close to the launch as anyone, including politicians and muckymucks and the press. NASA wouldn’t let anyone get any closer than 3 1/2 miles from the launch pad. I sat and watched the launch and then jumped back into my MGB and drove home to Michigan.”

-Jim Walton, Sebastopol

From the Wright Brothers to the moon in one day

"I was 10 years old and living in Virginia Beach, Virginia. My dad, who was a pilot in the Navy, took our family to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on the morning of the moon landing. We got to see the museum and how the Wright brothers were the 1st to fly their airplane invention on the beach.

I remember as we drove home listening to the news on the radio that the Eagle had landed on the moon. Later that night, we were encouraged to stay up very late to see the first walk on the moon on our grainy black and white TV screen. Mostly, I just remember struggling to stay awake on the east coast for the big event.

In thinking back about that day, it was only a few years ago that I fully realized the connection of Dad’s plan between us seeing the 1st airplane flight and 1st walking on the moon. What a cool thing my Dad did for us that historic day!"

‑ Cristi McMahan, Healdsburg

A grandfather’s wonder

"I remember watching the moon walk on TV. My Grandfather, who was 86, was so thrilled to see this and spoke of living from horse and buggy to a Man on the Moon. What I didn’t know at the time was that the company, Electro Engineering in San Leandro, where my mother worked in the office, was making parts for the Apollo Space Program. There was a branch factory in Forestville which I knew about. Mr. Philips was the engineer and her boss. His wife was my junior high algebra teacher in San Leandro. When I moved to Sonoma County, their building in Forestville was where the Laser Craft was housed in the 1980s. My Grandfather was one of the first veterinarians in the U.S. and I suppose he knew about what was being made where my mother worked. It may have added to his thrill. He died a couple of months later, and the anticipation may have kept him going. It was huge for him as I recall."

To read the full story about the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, click here.

‑ Gina Stateler-Calhoun

It didn’t look real

"On July 20, 1969 my late husband Louis Embree and I had come up from Monterey with our two year old son, John, to look for a house to buy in anticipation of a move. It was early evening when we looked at a house on lower Grandview in Sebastopol, or someplace in that vicinity, and when we entered the house, the couple were watching the moonwalk on a small TV. Although I know it was real, it didn’t look real. It looked like tiny puppets created in a studio.

And you might be interested to know that when we finally did buy a house, we paid $16,500 for it."

‑ Serena Turan Embree

Any excuse for a party

"Picture a 22-year-old young lady, first apartment (for $75 a month in Santa Rosa!). Any excuse for a party, right? I invited a ton of friends to come over, wear black and white (for the dark sky and bright moon) and watch the landing with me.

If you remember, they decided to 'walk' early…so people were delaying their arrival, watching at home. It was an 'any minute now' situation.

I was almost ready and discovered I was out of mascara. I told my boyfriend, 'I’m going to the store to buy mascara.' He said, 'WHAT?? A man is going to land on the moon and you’re going to the store to buy mascara!?!?!?'

I said, 'They’ll be landing on the moon for years, but I only have one chance to look good tonight.' Then, I jumped in my little sports car and sped off.

I did get home in time to see the first step. My friends eventually got there. We all had a lot of fun…and, by the way, I looked great!"

- Susan Celisse Reichardt, Santa Rosa

Blown away by American pride

"The summer of 1969, I was 17 and recently graduated from high school in Seattle. During my senior year, my grandfather, who lived frugally in a log cabin that he built, unexpectedly gave me $3,000 for college. I opted to spend the first two years at a local junior college before transferring to the University of Washington, which allowed me (while working throughout college) to spend $1,300 of that gift to go to Europe for 5 weeks.

I had made my way to Rotterdam, The Netherlands just before July 20, 1969. That week, we lived on an old docked ship that was converted to student housing. Given there was a 6-hour time difference, we stayed up to 2:17 a.m. on July 21 to watch the moon landing on a small black and white TV in the common room. I think our homesickness plus national pride plus anxiety for a safe landing played against each other, and the anticipation and excitement was palpable. When Apollo 11 landed, a roar went up. Eventually, I headed to my shared room to catch a few hours of sleep...some never went to bed that morning. After breakfast, we eschewed the scheduled activities to watch the moon walk. Excitement on the ship was high.

Later that day, we left the ship. We were surprised when every person who realized we were Americans congratulated us...as if it was our personal victory. This was a very different experience for members of my generation. In 1969 when we were embroiled in the Vietnam War. Many of us knew boys who enlisted or were drafted, and some of whom died. During our 'becoming' adults, we had very mixed and questioning feelings about our country. I think the moon landing was the first time that I and my contemporaries felt nothing but pure pride in our nation."

- Stephanie Wrightson, Santa Rosa

Capturing the moon

"The night of the 19th, I had camped with college friends in Cazadero, and left early to drive one of our group home to Sausalito. I hoped to drive back to where our group had gathered to watch the moon landing on TV. Realizing I wasn’t going to get there in time to share the exciting moment with them, I pulled off the freeway as I heard of the lunar module’s approach on the car radio.

As I jumped out of my VW Bug with my Nikon and focused on the moon in the clear afternoon sky, taking in Mount Tamalpais in the foreground, just as the lunar module touched down, I snapped that shot to remember the moment."

- Kathleen Sauber Jones, Petaluma

Who is Roger?

"In 1966 my dad Bill Schafer (a tehnical writer for a subcontractor of NASA) was transferred to Cape Kennedy to work at Pad 39 for the Apollo program.

As the space program ramped up the public became more and more interested, with the pinnacle event being the Apollo 11 lift off and the lunar landing. My parents had splurged and had bought one of the first color TV’s in the neighborhood. My aunt, uncle and 2 cousins timed their summer vacation from Michigan for the Apollo 11 lift off.

People parked on the causeway to watch the liftoff at the Cape, easily visible across the water. Most everyone had a battery-operated transistor radio tuned to the liftoff broadcast. Thousands of people fell silent as you could hear the countdown from so many radios. We watched the huge Saturn rocket lift up slowly and then disappear down the coast. We then sat through a very long traffic jam to get home.

On the night of the first moon walk we had neighbors over to watch on our new TV. The living room was full. The walk happened later in the evening and we kids were allowed to stay up and watch but were under strict orders to be silent; my dad wanted to hear every detail. There was lots of raw radio communication using military jargon: 'Roger that,' 'Affirmative,' etc. My youngest brother, John, who was 5, was on the sofa next to our mom. After what seemed like hours of build up...and then finally watching Neil Armstrong go down the ladder, John finally could not resist any longer and said in a clear little voice: 'Mama, who is Roger?' All of the adults in the room burst into laughter."

- Susan Wiegman

Moon landing shower

"1969 Apollo 11 landed on the moon and my husband and I landed back in California after our honeymoon! We had married in Minnesota where I grew up, and his family was unable to travel there to join us. Our honeymoon was traveling by ‘58 Pontiac from St. Paul, Minnesota to Palo Alto, California. After we landed, my husband’s sister threw us a wedding shower in her home. It took place on Sunday, July 20, 1969. We opened our gifts and then witnessed on TV the gift of an American-manned spacecraft landing on the surface of the moon! We saw pictures of our earth from outer space. Our world as a newlywed couple opened unforgettable opportunities and vistas that we’ve continued to experience through our 50 years together as man and wife as we stepped into our new space in the world!"

- Pat & Dave Hall, Santa Rosa

Scandinavian support

"Our trip to Scandinavia now took us to the coast of Norway. We were driving along the beautiful coast and needed to find a place to spend the night. There was a little town outside of Bergan, and we found a small boutique hotel. We were awakened by a pounding on our door in the middle of the night. The proprietor was shouting, ‘Get up, Get up! You must come down to see this! The landing is about to happen!’ We jumped into our robes and went down to the lobby where about 12 other guests had gathered, we being the only Americans. Sitting in front of the bulky, black and white TV, we watched in tense silence as the narrator, in voiced-over Norwegian, commented on the event. When the spaceship landed, there was a sigh of relief, then more waiting. As Neil Armstrong stepped down on the surface and spoke the now famous words, ‘That’s one small step for man, one giant step for mankind.’ The room exploded with shouts and claps and cheers. The gathered guests came to us, shook our hands, clapped us on the shoulders, and generally celebrated the amazing success as if we had done it ourselves. The proprietor had champagne glasses already set with chilled champagne in buckets. He poured each of us a glass, then asked for silence while he presented a toast to the astronauts and America. This was an astonishing and almost surprising ending to a long awaited, and often dismissed as unachievable, success. Our feelings of pride in our homeland overwhelmed us, and we basked in the attention we were getting.

The next morning at breakfast, people would hand us flowers, some even gave us candy, all eager to shake our hands and give us thumbs up signs. Few spoke English, but they certainly could convey their admiration.”

- Nancy Humphriss, Santa Rosa

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