Scott resident part of first Lunar Landing history
The responses that Mike Suley received to the letters he wrote in early 1969 all contained pretty standard boilerplate language. President Richard Nixon, then-U.S. Sens. Richard Schweiker and Hugh Scott and other officials each thanked him for his note, assured him that they would consider it, and reiterated their dedication to the country.
None of the replies really acknowledged his belief that it should be an American flag that the Apollo 11 crew plants on the moon save for the one.
“I appreciate your recommendation and do, in fact, agree with them in general,” Neil Armstrong wrote back in April 1969, just three months before the moon landing.
“I think you will be pleased with the final outcome,” he continued.
According to a 1993 NASA contractor report, the agency briefly considered flying a United Nations flag on the moon in light of a speech Nixon gave in 1969 that stressed the “international flavor” of the Apollo missions. Suley, then 19 and living in Point Breeze, was compelled by the press speculation over the matter to request that Armstrong and others use their influence to see that an American flag be flown instead.
“We invested all the money. We had 400,000 Americans involved,” Suley, 69, of Scott Township, said. “We would end the space race decisively if we were to go up there and put that flag on the moon and walk around.”
Suley, a self-described “space geek,” recalled his eyes welling with tears upon receiving the letter and hoping Armstrong’s words would prove true. At the time Armstrong wrote back, Suley said he knew only that he was commander of the mission, not that he would be the first man to walk on the moon.
He said he never doubted that the letter was genuine and in the early 2000s had an appraiser verify its authenticity. Suley said his appraiser put him in contact with Auburn University Professor James Hansen, whom he said used the letter in researching “First Man,” a biography of Armstrong on which a new film is based.
The original copy is being displayed on loan at the Senator John Heinz History Center as part of a current exhibit on Apollo 11. Beside the letter are blank pages on which patrons are invited to share their memories of the moon landing.
“It was a seminal moment for people not just across the country but around the world, and a lot of them have memories related to it,” said Anne Madarasz, curatorial director at Heinz History Center. “We use it as a way to invite people to share their remembrances about what that moment meant to them.”
Matthew Guerry is a Tribune-Review contributor.