In thinking about this week’s Profile in Persistence, I was considering several great men and then cleveland.com released a really entertaining article listing the most famous person from each of Ohio’s 88 Counties and knowing it wasn’t even a contest for my home county, it seemed like fate that this week’s feature be Neil Armstrong.
When we talk about great men that started young, it doesn’t start much younger than Neil Armstrong who was flying airplanes before he could drive a car. Growing up in Mr. Armstrong’s hometown, it has become local lore of a boy on his bicycles riding to our local airstrip to learn to fly.
In 1947, Armstrong began his studies at Perdue University on a Navy scholarship. He was called into duty in 1949 and quickly distinguished himself. By 1950, he qualified as a Naval Aviator, making him, at 20, one of the youngest in the Navy.
He flew 70 missions in Korea, earning The Air Medal, a Gold Star, and Engagement Star. His success as a fighter pilot allowed him to retire from the navy at the age of 22. He was keeping with his trend of doing this well and doing it early.
After graduating from Perdue in 1955 with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering, Neil Armstrong wanted to return to his first true love; flying. He applied to the newly formed National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the federal agency that was the precursor to NASA, and was denied. After succeeding in nearly everything he put his mind to, young Mr. Armstrong, for the first time experienced failure. It seemed as if his dream of exploring space had been dashed.
It’s tempting to look at a man that literally rose higher than any other and believe that he was always going to end up there, but the story of Neil Armstrong serves as an inspiration to all of us from his hometown because the obstacles he faced to achieve his dreams.
When he was denied an opportunity with National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, Armstrong undertook a career as a test pilot with Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory in Cleveland, Ohio. It was a dangerous career but it allowed Armstrong to show the kind of calm in the face of chaos that made him such a great astronaut, flying his aircraft to the brink on several occasions totally more than 900 flights in experimental aircraft and more than one that almost killed him.
Persistently following his goal of becoming an astronaut, Armstrong applied for and was accepted to be one of the few civilians in the Air Force’s Man In Space Soonest program in 1958. After a short time there, in 1962, Neil Armstrong was selected to be a NASA Astronaut.
It almost didn’t happen as his application arrived a week late, but after clawing his way back from near obscurity, he found himself a part of NASA’s “New Nine”, or the second group of astronauts selected for space exploration.
On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong, son of Wapakoneta Ohio, war hero, test pilot, and now astronaut, stepped upon the moon’s surface and said one history’s most famous quotes:
That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.
Getting to this point took extraordinary courage, but it was courage Neil Armstrong had displayed his entire life. It took extraordinary hard work, but Neil Armstrong was no stranger to hard work. Most importantly, it took extraordinary persistence. Lesser men would have given up when they were rejected from service. Lesser men would have quit during the incredibly rigorous testing. Lesser men would have quit after watching their fellow astronauts die in crash after crash. Neil Armstrong, though, wasn’t lesser men. His courage, his hard work and yes, his persistence forged his legacy for all of time. He is a true profile in persistence.