Moving memorial

On July 20, 1969, the world watched in awe as astronaut Neil Armstrong, an Eagle Scout from Wapakoneta, took man’s first steps on the moon.

On Sept. 13, 2012, three Eagle Scouts from Wapakoneta — Eric Limbert, Zach Orchard and Alec Temple — watched in awe as they stood in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., as special guests at Neil Armstrong’s memorial service. Armstrong died Aug. 25 from complications after heart surgery earlier in the month.

“It was amazing to be there — all the people that were there, all the Navy personnel, all the military personnel, all the astronauts, past and present, seeing a couple, that I thought, were dignitaries,” Limbert, 20, said after returning home late Thursday. “It felt amazing to be in presence of all those people and they were there to honor Neil Armstrong and  recognize him for his achievements.”

Temple and Orchard shared Limbert’s sentiment.

“It was a great honor and he was an Eagle Scout from my troop,” Temple said, noting Armstrong earned his Eagle Scout in the 1940s from Troop 9. “It was a real honor for me to represent his hometown and his home troop in D.C.”

Temple explained Armstrong started with Troop 14 but switched to Troop 9, where he earned his Eagle Scout status.

“It made me feel really good to be able to go and honor one of our national heroes and getting the chance to represent Wapakoneta in such a way,” Orchard said. “The National Cathedral was absolutely beautiful and it was a very touching ceremony about a hero who didn’t bask in the limelight and who was a very humble man. It didn’t matter to him that he was the first man to walk on the moon.”

Armstrong, who grew up in Wapakoneta and St. Marys, commanded the historic landing of the Apollo 11 spacecraft on the moon July 20, 1969. His first words after stepping onto the moon are etched in history books: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Armstrong and Aldrin spent nearly three hours walking on the lunar surface and left behind a plaque that read: “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”

On Thursday, approximately 1,500 people gathered in the National Cathedral for the 80-minute memorial service featuring speeches by Armstrong’s fellow Apollo 11 crewmate Michael Collins, by the last man to step on the moon, astronaut Eugene Cernan and NASA Administrator and former astronaut Charles Bolden. Mercury astronaut and fellow Ohioan John Glenn sat in the audience.

The three Eagle Scouts said they took to heart the statements about Armstrong given by Cernan, Collins and Bolden.

“You have now shown once again the pathway to the stars,” Eugene Cernan said in a tribute to Armstrong. “As you soar through the heavens beyond even where eagles dare to go, you can now finally put out your hand and touch the face of God.”

Collins read a prayer tailored to Armstrong’s accomplishments and humility. A moon rock that the Apollo 11 astronauts gave the church in 1974 is embedded in one of its stained glass windows.

Bolden said Armstrong’s humility and courage “lifted him above the stars.” Bolden read a letter from President Barack Obama saying, “the imprint he left on the surface of the moon is matched only by the extraordinary mark he left on ordinary Americans.”

The service and remembrances of Armstrong moved Limbert emotionally.

“I thought it was an excellent service,” the son of Carla and Bill Limbert said. “There were a lot of moments where you wanted to cry because of some of the stuff those guys were saying about Neil Armstrong, and of course they mentioned a lot of the other stuff  like cracking some of the jokes he had. I thought it was a very nice honor to have there for him.”

Limbert, who was a member of Troop 4 and is studying criminal justice at James A. Rhodes State College is Lima, also learned Armstrong “did what many thought was impossible and I learned to go for the impossible because nothing is really impossible. It makes me want to shoot for the impossible.”

For his Eagle Scout project, Limbert constructed a flag pole and monument at St. John’s Cemetery in Fryburg.

The emotional speeches struck Orchard, too.

“It made you feel good that he wasn’t just a person seeking celebrity, he was just a normal guy who did something great,” the son of Colleen and Dave Harrod said. “He teaches us that you can be the first to do something great and still be that normal guy with small town values.”

Orchard said Collins sent the three Eagle Scouts autographed photographs and it made him “really happy that even astronauts and Congressmen recognize earning your Eagle Scout is a really big deal.”

Orchard, who plans to attend Bowling Green State University to study visual communications technology, constructed a memorial at the Wapakoneta Fire Station

“I was amazed at how every single one of the speakers made a point to say and to talk about his humility and how he could have been a celebrity and acted like the big cheese, but he decided to be himself, a person like everybody else — a teacher,” Temple said.

“The one thing I took away from the his life is his humility and I definitely took it to heart I could be an average Joe or the first person to walk on the moon — whatever I do, it is not just all me that gets the credit there are hundreds of others who are working behind the scenes that allowed that one person to be great,” said Temple, who noted he and the others felt honored to represent Eagle Scouts at the national memorial service. “I learned a lot from his example.”

Temple constructed a children’s courtyard at his church, First United Methodist Church for his Eagle Scout project.

The selection of the three Eagle Scouts started when Rick Miller, a representative of the Armstrong family, requesting Eagle Scouts be present at the national memorial service. He contacted the local Boy Scout district, Black Swamp. Miller and Boy Scout officials felt it would be best to choose Eagle Scouts from Armstrong’s hometown and then the local Scoutmasters offered an invite to recent Eagle Scout winners.

The trio left with Eric Temple, a Boy Scout leader, a teacher at Lima Central Catholic High School and Alec Temple’s father, on Wednesday morning at 7 a.m. They arrived at their hotel, three blocks from the National Cathedral at 5 p.m.

They attended the ceremony at 10 a.m. Thursday and after the ceremony, Eric Temple said the boys were interviewed by the USA Today, the Houston Chronicle and news outlets from Columbus and Cincinnati.

The foursome returned home and Eric Temple said their GPS took them on an alternate route home — past the Flight 93 memorial in Pennsylvania. A moment they wouldn’t forget. They returned home at 11 p.m. Thursday.

The emotion of the national memorial service also was not lost on Eric Temple.

“For myself, I was into  to the science fiction and stargazing as a kid and to be in that room with all those people invited by NASA,” the elder Temple said. “Buzz Aldrin was there and the amount of intelligence that was sitting in that cathedral was awe inspiring — it really was.

“It was awe inspiring for all of us and to walk away from that ceremony and not feel very patriotic, then something has to be  very wrong with you,” he said. “It was one of the most awesome experiences for these boys. It meant a lot to them.”