Memories from your youth sometimes pop up when you’re not looking. I had that experience a few weeks ago. A casual glance at the moon from a hotel in San Francisco brought back visions of my dad from 50 years ago. They seared through me as I stared out the window.  

My dad, James York, was a civil engineer and conservative Nebraska farmer who didn’t always show a lot of emotion. He commanded respect in a subtle way. When he spoke, you just listened. But on July 20, 50 years ago, was different.

My usually stoic father was extremely animated that day, transfixed by the television.  I was 9 years old and with my family on a California beach vacation, but the trip we usually made to the beach was on hold this day as the TV took center stage. So what was the big deal?  It was July 20, 1969. The remarkable feat riveted my dad and hundreds of millions of others around the world as we watched the first man to land on the moon.

Our world today is so full of technological marvels that we are all accustomed to learning simply by tapping a few icons on our smart phones. In a matter of minutes, I can talk to my friend Francis in Cameroon, watch my daughter’s latest singing performance on YouTube, or catch a live Dodger game on Reddit. It’s magical, mystical and mind-boggling. We don’t think twice about it, especially young people; it’s what they have grown up with. 

But it’s riveting and special to look at grainy black and white clips of the moon landing during a time when technology was less advanced, imagining (or remembering) black and white television screens tuned in to beloved journalist, Walter Cronkite. We were all in complete awe of the moment.

If the landing impacted my Dad as much as it did, I suspect that’s true for other members of the Greatest Generation. There were almost 400,000 people who had some involvement in the project; many of those folks had to be out there in our senior living communities. With our friend Beth Sanders from LifeBio doing the heavy lifting, we asked our iN2L customer communities to share any memories that residents had about that day or any part they may have had in the landing itself.  

The stories we received, and continue to receive, are inspirational and fun to read. 

Here are a few excerpts from senior living residents talking about the moon landing.  Here are some memories from Tacoma Lutheran Retirement Community (Seattle, WA) and Heritage at Bel Air (Norfolk, Nebraska). Check out the IN2L system this month to HEAR the voices of these amazing people as they share their Moon Landing Stories!  

  • “We had set up a small TV set in the barracks and 18 of us gathered around a Sony portable TV. It was quite a big deal for us. It made us very proud. It wasn’t just America but the world was riveted watching Apollo beaming back down to earth.” Henry “Ted Feier

  • “I couldn’t believe that man had actually landed on the moon. I saw it with my own eyes so I had to believe it. I saw him put the flags in and the footprint, but I couldn’t get over how desolate it looked up there. No wind, no trees, no grass. I thought, ‘Who wants to go to the moon when it looks that desolate?’”  — Audrey Weigle
  • “It’s embedded in my mind permanently. I worked as a nurse and was at work the night of the moon landing. One of the patients had a little portable TV and the world stopped. All 18 floors watched as Neil Armstrong stepped out on the moon. It was live TV. I don’t think anyone could believe it was really happening. It was quite awesome.”  Susan Bongfeldt 
  • “We were glued to the TV that afternoon. The thing that struck me was my grandmother was still alive, and my grandmother was 92 at the time. I was thinking of all that she had seen in her lifetime! She was born in 1897! In her lifetime she was aware of the first airplanes, automobiles taking the place of the horse, and the amazing way the world had changed. I was struck by that. We have left the earth and people actually put their foot on it.  An amazing thing!” – Chaplain Randy Olson

It’s not easy to get away from where we are today, both from a technology standpoint as well as a divisive cultural standpoint.  It’s easy to think that we invented turmoil with our current political discourse, but, if you honestly look back at our country when the landing on the moon occurred, it was not as idyllic as we may think. There was the Vietnam War and assassinations of leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy the previous year. Turmoil has always been woven into our culture.  But landing on the moon was a soothing balm for the country; a collective moment of awe mixed with a collective pat on the back.

If you’re under 55, and you have absolutely no recollection of that moment in time, take time out this week and ask your residents what it was like.  

Sit down with them and watch this link together – Walter Cronkite calling the landing live,  46 breathtaking minutes. Slow down a bit, listen to their answers about the experience, and enjoy the gift that we all have in listening to the wisdom of The Greatest Generation.

Jack York is the co-founder of It’s Never 2 Late.