1969 was a half century ago and yet, when that historical year comes up in conversation, those Miracle Mets always lead off. After being 100-to-1 underdogs, the New York Mets finally came of age and went on to win the World Series that October.
For a second grader whose class was permitted to take in those weekday games on a small, grainy black and white television set while still in school (yes, baseball did at one time play afternoon World Series games), it was simply amazin’.
The second most remembered event that year for a second grader was certainly not Woodstock, or when Ted Kennedy ran his car off the Chappaquiddick Island bridge leaving Mary Jo Kopechne to drown. Rather, it arrived on another black and white television screen in July, which showed Astronaut Neil Armstrong taking that “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” on the moon’s surface.
In retrospect, I was always of the belief that Alice Kramden, the selfless wife of Ralph Kramden of the Gotham Bus Co., and that classic television sitcom “The Honeymooners,” would be the first human to reach the lunar surface and the launch site would be 328 Chauncey St., in Brooklyn.
Apparently, that was not meant to be.
It was President Kennedy’s challenge to the nation that he did not live to see come to fruition at the end of that decade: “I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.”
It was simply a sign of the times that Kennedy would dare assume it would be a man dismissing someone like Alice Kramden outright, just because she’s a Brooklyn housewife. On the other hand, it could have been a woman who identified as a man, or even Bruce, err, Caitlyn Jenner. And here the 1960s thought they were voguish and hip, when in fact, they were nothing but bigots in the mold of Ralph Kramden and Archie Bunker.
If anything, the evolution of the Democratic Party over the past 50-plus years has been almost as dramatic as those first couple of footprints on the moon, going from Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Kennedy to Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez.
It almost makes one want to breakout crooning “Happy Days are Here Again.”
Even though the Vietnam War divided the nation, the final year of the 1960s saw not only the United States, but humankind reach new heights of scientific and technological achievement by landing and returning the first humans to ever stroll along the moon’s surface. It happened not just once in 1969, but twice, with the Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 missions underscoring America’s victory in space over the Russians in hoisting Old Glory upon our closest celestial body.
Our nation’s venture to the moon was a monumental accomplishment that not only inspired, but briefly united all Americans and its half-century anniversary — the greatest achievement in human history — is upon us.
The space program was the genesis of so much of today’s technology and advancement — computers, cell phones, calculators, microchips and flat screens. Most amazing is that iPhone you have in your back pocket has more computing power than any of the computers deployed within the Apollo program.
Our nation has traversed the technological coattails of the moon landing for half a century. Countries like China, Japan, India and Russia understand that the path to space holds great promise.
Sadly, many Americans have taken an indifferent mindset toward space exploration and we are poorer for it. By now, we should be mining the Asteroid Belt. Our nation is $22 trillion in debt, but invested a mere $25 billion in the space program — the best tax dollars we have ever spent.
America has not ventured beyond the Earth’s lower orbit since the Apollo missions ended, while not a single astronaut has lifted off since the Space Shuttle program went dark in 2011.
At the top of our game, we retired and skipped town.
A half-century later, the Apollo 11 moon landing still underscores that there is nothing a freedom loving people cannot achieve — provided they still possess the will to do it.
Maresca, a local freelance writer, composes “Talking Points” for each Sunday edition.