50 Years Ago: Apollo 11 – First Men on the Moon. Where were You? (Jennifer Semple Siegel) (Non-fiction)

The author in her “crummy”  East King Street apartment -- 1969

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made history when they set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969 – no other human had ever accomplished such a feat.
It was an exciting time, and yet…
I was 18 and had just moved to York, Pennsylvania, from Sioux City, Iowa; an unfortunate circumstance had driven me to flee from my family and home.
I found myself in a strange city, my boyfriend the only person I knew.
I had just met his family – though we would later grow close.
I had no TV and no phone.
My boyfriend still insisted living at home and was dithering over our relationship.
I spent a lot of time alone in the little crummy apartment we had rented together. (We later married and divorced after 10 years).
At the time, York was embroiled in a major race riot; my apartment building was located smack dab in the middle of it.

Facsimile cover of The Gazette and Daily 
(York, Pennsylvania), July 21, 1969

The riots started on July 16 and “ended” on July 24.
I suppose they have never really ended because 50 years later, York, like the rest of the country, continues grappling with racism and hatred, the “Us versus Them” conundrum, other riots bubbling just under the surface.
Coming from lily-white Iowa, I didn’t have much experience with people of color and even less regarding race relations.
To be honest, I probably still don’t understand the full implications of racism and prejudice, although I try.
All I knew back then: I was very frightened.
Bullets flew in the streets.
Men and boys shouted in the street, anger and hatred in their voices.
Meanwhile, the National Guard had been called in.
Tanks rolled down the streets. Armed National Guardsmen walked the streets, a curfew set for all citizens.
Those who dared to break curfew risked being shot on the spot.
At night, I cowered alone under a blanket in the bathtub – the bathroom was the only room without windows.
Barb, a lady living in the apartment directly below mine, was also interested in the moon landing.
Who wasn’t?
She and her eight-year-old daughter invited me downstairs to witness this momentous event.
We watched in awe as Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon and spoke his famous message to the world:
“One small step for a man; a giant leap for mankind.”
At that moment, a tank rolled by with its gun pointed toward Barbs second story window, at ready for urban war.
Even then, the irony of the moment was not lost on that silly, naïve girl:
Humans who are capable of such great courage and deeds are also capable of cowardly and horrific acts.
It was a great day for the world.
It was a sad day for a small city in crisis.

(456 words)

NASA: Restored Apollo 11 Moonwalk


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