Neil Armstrong waves to the crowd during a parade through Wapakoneta, his hometown, on Sept. 6, 1969 celebrating the historic moon landing. DAYTON DAILY NEWS / WRIGHT STATE UNIVERSITY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS

Wapakoneta welcomes home Neil Armstrong after moon landing

Wapakoneta held its breath along with the rest of the world as native son Neil Armstrong guided a lunar module to the surface of the moon.

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Auglaize Street, the main thoroughfare through town, was nearly deserted on June 20, 1969 as folks gathered around their television sets to watch Armstrong — and later Buzz Aldrin — climb out of the “Eagle” and take the first steps on the moon.

Downtown Wapakoneta decorated for Neil Armstrong's homecoming in 1966.
Photo: Dayton Daily News File Photo

The normally quiet residential street where Armstrong’s parents lived — named for the astronaut after his 1966 Gemini VIII space flight — was congested with hundreds of “newsmen and sightseers milling around on the lawn,” according to Dayton’s Journal Herald.

When Armstrong’s parents made a brief appearance after the successful landing, the crowd broke into applause.

“Thank God” were Stephen Armstrong’s first words. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow,” said his mother, Viola Armstrong, who then requested “everybody just keep praying so we can get them off the moon and safely back to Earth.”

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Downtown at the Rhine and Brading Pharmacy where Armstrong worked as a boy, Richard Brading nervously smoked cigarettes as he watched the slow descent on television. “I’ll be damned,” he said as Armstrong reported the “Eagle” touched down. “This is absolutely so damned fantastic you can’t believe it.”

Neil Armstrong is surrounded by Sheriff's Deputies during his homecoming in Wapakoneta in September, 1969.
Photo: Dayton Daily News File Photo

The following September, Neil Armstrong returned to his hometown with his wife, Janet, and two sons, for a daylong hometown celebration, the first visit since that unbelievable moon landing.

Storefronts lining Auglaize Street were decorated with photos of the astronaut, American flags, and red, white and blue bunting. Some names of city streets were changed for the day to Apollo Drive, Eagle Boulevard and Lift Off Lane.

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Crowds estimated at more than 80,000 lined a 2½-mile-long parade route waving flags and holding placards. One sign read “John Glenn’s Hometown Says Hi!” and another “Hi neighbor.”

Gov. James Rhodes and comedian Bob Hope led the parade and other celebrities — comedienne Phyllis Diller, television star Hugh Downs and Dr. Albert Sabin, who developed the oral polio vaccine — were in town for the ceremonies.

Neil Armstrong waves to the crowd during a parade through Wapakoneta, his hometown, on Sept. 6, 1969 celebrating the historic moon landing. DAYTON DAILY NEWS / WRIGHT STATE UNIVERSITY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS
Photo: Staff Writer

Vendors along the route sold copies of the July 20 moon landing edition of the Wapakoneta Daily News for $3 and souvenir stands sold Neil Armstrong pennants, glasses, pictures and hats. Refreshment stands sold “moon-drink” and “moon-cheese.”

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Following a reunion with Blume High School pals, Armstrong, accompanied by his family, climbed into a convertible and waved to the cheering crowd as it navigated the parade route.

Neil Armstrong (left) returned to Wapakoneta Sept. 6, 1969 for a day-long celebration of the moon landing. A parade was held in his honor with comedian Bob Hope (center) and Ohio Gov. James Rhodes (right) leading. DAYTON DAILY NEWS / WRIGHT STATE UNIVERSITY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS

Armstrong thanked his hometown for the reception and described what he saw while on the moon.

“I could look up and see the planet Earth, and it was very bright and beautiful and very small,” he said, according to the Associated Press.

“I was amazed that it was the only beautiful thing to be seen. It is, in fact, the only place that we as a human race have right now to live on. It is a beautiful spot and certainly deserves being saved.”

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