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Published: Monday, 8/27/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Ohio delegates remember Neil Armstrong at GOP convention

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER
Behind the Ohio state delegate sign, pictures of Ohio native Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, are displayed on the main stage the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Behind the Ohio state delegate sign, pictures of Ohio native Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, are displayed on the main stage the Republican National Convention in Tampa.
AP Enlarge

TAMPA — Thoughts of the late Ohio astronaut Neil Armstrong replaced those of politics briefly during a gathering of the Ohio delegation as the Republican National Convention sat out the first day of its scheduled program because of a threatened hurricane that never really materialized.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) recalled the late Mr. Armstrong, of Wapakoneta, who died Saturday, as someone who aroused deep admiration at all of his somewhat rare appearances.

Ohio’s approximately 126 delegates and alternate delegates, along with some 375 others, including spouses, friends, “honorary delegates,” sponsors, and elected officials, are in Tampa for the four-day convention that is to wrap up Thursday with the nomination of Mitt Romney as the party’s presidential candidate.

The Democratic National Convention follows next week in Charlotte, N.C., with the expected nomination of President Barack Obama for a second term.

The Ohio delegation is staying at the Mainsail Suites Conference Center about nine miles west of the downtown Tampa Bay Times Forum where the convention is being held.

Fears that hurricane-force wind and rain would wreak havoc in this Gulf of Mexico coastal prompted party officials on Saturday to postpone the opening program from Monday to Tuesday.

As Tropical Storm Isaac deteriorated into strong winds and occasional rain, officials were disappointed that the first day of activities had been canceled. The theme of the first day was going to be “We Can Do Better.”

“It’s better off to be safe than sorry. I think that’s what the convention was trying to do,” said Ohio GOP Chairman Robert Bennett. “In retrospect I think we could have got a session in today.”

Mr. Armstrong was 82 when he died of complications from heart surgery.

During a breakfast event for about 350 people in the Mainsail, Mr. Portman recalled being invited for a dedication ceremony 10 years ago in Mason, Ohio, to which he brought Mr. Armstrong, but only under assurances to Mr. Armstrong that there would be no advance publicity.

Mr. Portman said that when the audience finally figured out that his introduction was about Neil Armstrong, the response was electric.

“I have never seen a response from a crowd like that. People were just amazed. They all jumped to their feet and gave him a standing ovation. Neil, being the modest, humble Ohioan that he was, was overwhelmed,” Mr. Portman said.

Mr. Portman also related a story from Tom Moe, a Vietnam veteran and now state director of Veterans Affairs who was a prisoner of the North Vietnamese with John McCain in 1969.

Mr. Portman said the North Vietnamese captors never wanted the prisoners to hear any good news about the United States.

One of Mr. Moe’s fellow prisoners got a letter from his mother and the Vietnamese guards had failed to notice the postage stamp, which depicted Mr. Armstrong setting foot on the moon.

“He said, ‘when we saw that postage stamp and we heard about it through our communication system through the prison it gave all of us inspiration and strength,’ ” said Mr. Portman, who was with Mr. Moe and Mr. Armstrong at his swearing-in to the U.S. Senate in 2011 when Mr. Moe related the anecdote to Mr. Armstrong.

Mr. Moe is an alternative delegate to the convention. He confirmed the story. “It was a very moving moment for all three of us,” Mr. Moe said.

Delegates also heard from Ari Fleischer, who was press secretary under President George W. Bush, and Josh Romney, third son of Mitt Romney. They were scheduled in the afternoon to hear from Newt Gingrich, one of the unsuccessful candidates for the Republican nomination to run against Mr. Obama.

Contact Tom Troy at: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.



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