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Hometown honors hero

Visitors flock to Wapakoneta to visit museum of late astronaut

  • Flowers-and-flags-in-front-of-the-museum

    Flowers and flags in front of the museum are memorials to Neil Armstrong.

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  • Rex-Messick-left-Jackie-Messick-1

    Rex Messick, left, Jackie Messick, and Phillip Messick look at the Apollo command mock-up at the museum.

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  • Ezekiel-Howie-9-gazes-at-a-portrait-of-Neil-Armstrong

    Ezekiel Howie, 9, gazes at a portrait of Neil Armstrong during a visit to the Armstrong Air & Space Museum in Wapakoneta, Ohio. Ezekiel was on a field trip Tuesday with his mother and brother.

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Ezekiel-Howie-9-gazes-at-a-portrait-of-Neil-Armstrong

Ezekiel Howie, 9, gazes at a portrait of Neil Armstrong during a visit to the Armstrong Air & Space Museum in Wapakoneta, Ohio. Ezekiel was on a field trip Tuesday with his mother and brother.

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"For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment, and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink."

-- Statement from the family of Neil Armstrong

WAPAKONETA, Ohio -- Nine-year-old Ezekiel Howie needed no prompting when asked Tuesday who Neil Armstrong is.

"The first person to put his foot on the moon," Ezekiel said while walking up to the Armstrong Air & Space Museum just off I-75 in the famous astronaut's hometown about 90 miles south of Toledo.

Photo gallery: Museum honors Neil Armstrong

He and his brother, Isaiah, had just finished a unit on astronomy with their mother, who is also their home-school teacher. A trip to the museum from their Hardin County home in Ridgeway was a celebratory field trip, Audrey Howie said.

"We studied galaxies, stars, suns, planets, comets, meteors, and we looked at astronauts at the end," Mrs. Howie said.

The Howies were among visitors from across the region who have made the trek to Wapakoneta in recent days after learning of Mr. Armstrong's death Saturday at the age of 82. The museum has scheduled a memorial service aptly dubbed "Wink at the Moon" at 8:30 p.m. today on the museum grounds.

"They're going to play 'Taps' at the end, and everyone's going to wink at the moon," said Mike Hensley, a member of the board of directors at the museum.

Flowers-and-flags-in-front-of-the-museum

Flowers and flags in front of the museum are memorials to Neil Armstrong.

The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
Enlarge | Buy This Image

Chris Burton, museum director, said the moon will nearly be full, and the skies are expected to be clear. The service, he said, "hopefully will be something that Neil would've liked -- a little understated, not bombastic, but also sincere. Just something that will allow the local people to say good-bye in their own way."

He was a national hero but clearly a favorite native son.

"It's a source of pride that we can all focus on," said Dan Graf, director of the Wapakoneta Area Chamber of Commerce. "He and no one else was the first to walk on the moon, putting this town on the map."

Auglaize County Commissioner Don Regula said wherever he goes, when he tells people he's from Wapakoneta, they say, "Oh, Neil Armstrong."

"It's neat to have people relate his legacy to our little town," he said. "What an ambassador he's been."

Mr. Burton said Mr. Armstrong was not in town often although he met with the museum association occasionally, most recently last year.

"He wanted to hear about our emphasis on education, what we were doing to introduce school kids to engineering and science and aviation," Mr. Burton said. "He wanted to know we were focusing on things other than him and the moon landing."

Rex-Messick-left-Jackie-Messick-1

Rex Messick, left, Jackie Messick, and Phillip Messick look at the Apollo command mock-up at the museum.

The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
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Nancy Coxe of Gahanna, Ohio, was at the museum with her husband, Bob, who said he was in college when Apollo 11 landed on the moon on July 20, 1969. It was an exciting time.

"We admire him certainly," Mrs. Coxe said. "He was doing things beyond our imagination, and think of all the things that have come since then because of the technology."

Admission is free today at the museum, which is open from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Normal hours are from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. It is closed Monday.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-724-6129.

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