America said its goodbyes Thursday to Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, a man remembered both as a hero and as a humble man from the Midwest.
Fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin, retired Navy Capt. Eugene A. Cernan — the second and last men on the moon — and Apollo 11 command module pilot Michael Collins joined hundreds of friends, family and fans at the Washington National Cathedral to honor "the man who demonstrated it's possible to reach new worlds."
"He was a humble man who reluctantly accepted his role of first human being to walk on another world," Capt. Cernan said. "When he did, he became a testament of what could be achieved … through dedication."
Armstrong's dedication to space flight and his modest leadership were themes repeated often at the memorial service, which was streamed on NASA television.
Roughly two dozen members of Congress, including House Speaker John A. Boehner, took part in the service, which included a performance of "Fly Me to the Moon" sung by Diana Krall and the presentation to Armstrong's wife of the American flag that was flown at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston on the day he died.
Armstrong died Aug. 25 from heart complications. A private service was held in Cincinnati and he will be buried at sea Friday. He was 82, and for more than half his life, he was known for his "one small step" in space and the trail he blazed for future astronauts and their missions.
"I think he was comfortable in himself," said David R. Scott, commander of the Apollo 15 mission. "Neil set the standard. He was a great steward for our country."
NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr. touted Armstrong's strength to never stop dreaming and credited the "courage, grace, and humility he displayed throughout his life that lifted him above the stars."
Born in Wapakoneta, Ohio, on Aug. 5, 1930, Armstrong became an astronaut in 1962. He took his first step on the lunar surface seven years later.
"I remember my father getting us out of bed to watch the walk," said Dupont Circle resident Sheryl Wilcox, who attended the memorial service. "I remember watching it on our black-and-white TV."
Darrell Hodge of Newark, Del., brought his young son and daughter to the memorial service because they are all "space buffs."
"I was born just a couple days after he got back," Mr. Hodge said of Armstrong's moon walk. "I've heard about it all my life. He's a hero to all of us."
Former U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow told the large crowd that he would remember Armstrong as "a friend, a regular guy, someone you played golf with or went on vacation with."
But Mr. Snow said he also would remember how Armstrong was always the engineer, "the pocket-protector, slide-rule kind of guy" and his painstaking study of the putting green and its angle and dew level.
"He couldn't help being the engineer," Mr. Snow said to the chuckling audience, made up of neat rows of sailors in their dress whites aligned next to groups of mourners in dark suits and dresses, sunlight streaming through the stained-glass windows above.
In 1974, Armstrong, Mr. Aldrin, and Mr. Collins presented the cathedral with a small piece of moon rock that was built into the design for the "Space Window."
The cathedral's bells pealed at the end of the service as attendees filed down the massive building's stairs, some pausing to snap photographs with astronauts or wipe away tears.
Northwest Washington resident Evelyn Woolston-May said the service was "very moving but very tasteful" and also necessary, because Armstrong's accomplishment was "an important occasion."
"After all," she said with a wink, "you don't walk on the moon every day."
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.