I was among 35,000 Scouts and leaders who gathered in tented areas on that Sunday evening, to watch the live black and white telecast of U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong become the first man to walk on the moon and utter those words which will be forever etched in my memory: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
On the day the St. George Boy Scouts left from Salt Lake City airport to take a side trip to Seattle, Apollo 11 launched from Cape Kennedy with Commander Neil Armstrong, along with Command Module Pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin into an initial Earth-orbit of 114 by 116 miles.
After we arrived in Seattle, we toured the Space Needle. It was there I got my first glimpse of anti-Vietnam War veterans who were demonstrating on the Space Needle grounds, built seven years earlier for the World’s Fair.
While in the Seattle area, we toured the Bremerton Navy Shipyard (now known as the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility) and Butchart Gardens near Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
On Tuesday, July 15, 1969, we flew to Spokane, Washington, where we then took a bus to Farragut State Park, near Bayview, Idaho. Troop 26, of which I was a member, was assigned to set up our tents in the Kenneth K. Bechtel camp site, one of 19 Boy Scout camp sites scattered throughout the state park.
That evening, the LDS chaplain assigned to the Jamboree, Marion D. Hanks, and 1936 Olympic track star, Jesse Owens, spoke to about 2,000 Region 12 Boy Scouts.
On Wednesday, July 16, while I was canoeing on Pend Oreille Lake, the Apollo 11 was well on its way towards the moon. In the July 16th edition of the Jamboree Journal, the official Boy Scout newspaper at the Jamboree, the Journal reported that “Scouts and Explorers can be personally very proud of the crew of this historic flight. Two of the three “moonmen” were Scouts in earlier days. Neil Armstrong was an Eagle Scout back in Ohio, while “Buzz” Aldrin, was a Second Class Scout in New Jersey.
“Scouts and Explorers whose radios happen to be tuned to the moon mission tomorrow afternoon may hear the astronauts greet Jamboree participants, “ the Journal reported.
“Tentatively, the three astronauts are planning to send greetings to Scouts and Explorers here at either 3:15 or 4:15 p.m. The plan is of course subject to change by more pressing demands of the astronauts.
The idea of having the astronauts speak to Scouts at the Jamboree came from the mother of Eagle Scout Lloyd R. Reeder, 14, and his brother Mike 12, a Life Scout of Friendswood, Texas, who are at Camp Amory Houghton. Their father, Air Force Major Lloyd Reeder, is training coordinator for the Apollo mission. Young Lloyd Reeder said when his father asked the astronauts about greeting Jamboree participants, they agreed enthusiastically. And so, just maybe…” the Jamboree Journal hinted, the historic greeting might just happen.
That evening, 35,000 scouts gathered in the Friendship Arena to hear 1936 Olympic Track Star Jesse Owens, along with radio personality Lanny Ross, and Jamboree Camp Chief Dwight J. Thomson speak. A fireworks display synchronized with music, concluded the night’s program.
True to his promise, Neil Armstrong , speaking from space on Thursday, July 17, 1969, said “I’d like to say hello to all my fellow Scouts and Scouters at Farragut State Park in Idaho at the National Jamboree there this week and Apollo 11 would like to send them best wishes.”
CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite also offered greetings “to the Boy Scout Jamboree at Farragut State Park.”
In his reply to Armstrong, BSA President Irving Feist wrote “your message of best wishes received. 35,000 National Jamboree Boy Scouts and Scouters at Farragut State Park, Idaho, read you loud and clear. We’re doing our best to Build to Serve (the Jamboree theme for 1969) here at home just as you and your great crew are doing for all mankind out there in space. God speed and good luck!”
On Sunday, July 20, 1969, after Armstrong brought the lunar module Eagle onto the moon’s surface, he radioed Houston, “The Eagle has landed.”
As he did so, an estimated 600 million people, a fifth of the world’s population, watched and listened to the landing, among them was myself and 35,000 other Scouts who stood and cheered loudly when the astronauts landed on the moon.
To honor the astronauts’ historic moon landing, President Nixon declared a National Day of Participation in which he stated “the adventure is not theirs alone but everyone’s. The history they are making is not only scientific history but human history. That moment when man first sets foot on a body other than earth will stand through the centuries as one supreme in human experience, and profound in its meaning for generations to come.”
The proclamation also stated that, “As the astronauts go where man has never gone; as they attempt what man has never tried, we on earth will want, as one people, to be with them in spirit to share the glory and the wonder, and to support them with prayers that all will go well.”
As the astronauts began their return trip to Earth, BSA President Irving Feist spoke for every person at the Jamboree when he said, “Boys, you have just witnessed one of the greatest moments in the history of your country. Let’s bow our heads and say a prayer of thanks and ask God for the safe return of these brave Americans.”
To further celebrate Eagle Scout Astronaut Neil Armstrong and his companion, Edwin Aldrin’s landing on the moon, Scout leaders at the Jamboree brought in 20,000 United States flags which were then distributed throughout the various Scout camps for Scouts to place atop their tents.
At Jamboree headquarters, 400 United States flags were massed on a slope behind the speaker’s platform and 400 troop flags, 20 from each camp, lined the perimeter of the area beside the flagpoles of the states.
It was truly a historic occasion, and one I will never forget.
To top it off, on Tuesday, July 22, our last evening at the Jamboree, we got to see a nearly 8-minute ABC network television tape of the moon walk by Armstrong and Aldrin, shown on three huge screens at the BSA Friendship Arena. Astronaut Frank Borman of Apollo 8 (which orbited the moon in December 1968), and who sat at President Nixon’s elbow while the President talked with Armstrong and Aldrin during the moon walk , also spoke to us about space exploration.
When I look back to that historic day in July 1969 and when I look at the moon, I realize how lucky I was to participate in a National Boy Scout Jamboree that just happened to be going on at the same time Neil Armstrong made space history.
When Neil Armstrong died at the age of 82 on Aug. 25, 2012, millions of people worldwide mourned his death and honored him as one of the world’s truly great heroes.
He was certainly one of mine.
Besides myself, the other Scouts who attended the Jamboree from St. George included: David Bracken, Daniel Grover, Keith Kearl, Kevin Pickett, Paul G. Snow, Russell T. Snow, Scott Snow, Richard Quayle, and Robert Miles. We were led by Scoutmaster Dwain Haacke of Kanab and assistant scoutmasters Sherm Varney of Pleasant Grove and E. Eric Snow of St. George.