There will likely never be another year like 1969

Jeff Neal

The year 1969 was one of wonder for an 8-year-old boy.

I remember being excited in January -- my Ohio State Buckeyes capped off a national championship season with a Rose Bowl win over USC.

A few days later, my New York Jets stunned the sports world by defeating the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

That summer, it was baseball, bike riding, "Dark Shadows" on the TV and a day at the pool splashing about and listening to Blood, Sweat & Tears' "Spinning Wheel." Or Tommy James' "Crystal Blue Persuasion." Or Junior Walker and the All-Stars' "What Does It Take?"

But nothing captured the essence of 1969 like the real-life drama of Apollo 11's journey to the moon.

It began on July 16, when Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins lifted off.

For the next few days, the nation was glued to their televisions as the rocket made its way through the heavens. And on July 20, at 4:18 p.m., the lunar module Eagle 1 landed on the surface of the moon. An estimated 500 million people worldwide watched transfixed as Armstrong stepped from the spacecraft and took his first steps on the moon's terrain.

"That's one small step for man ... one giant leap for mankind," Armstrong said.

For those of us who watched, we will never forget.

The astronauts returned to earth on July 24 -- the mission was an incredible success and, to this day, is the centerpiece of NASA's accomplishments.

And the moon landing was the centerpiece of a turbulent summer as well. Some of it, the 8-year-old version of me understood. Some of it, I wouldn't grasp until I was much older.

The Vietnam War raged on.

The Stonewall riots in New York City marked the start of the modern gay rights movement in the U.S.

Edward M. Kennedy drove off a bridge on his way home from a party on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts, during the very week of the moon landing. Mary Jo Kopechne, a former campaign aide to his brother, died in the early morning hours of July 19 in the submerged car. The incident haunted Kennedy for the rest of his life.

In August we had Woodstock -- the most glorious concert festival of all time. And we also had the infamous Charles Manson Family murders.

We had a little bit of everything in 1969.

For a child, it was a great time to be growing up.

For the nation, it was a turbulent time that set the course we are still following today.

JEFF NEAL is the editor of the Commonwealth Journal. Reach him at jneal@somerset-kentucky.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jnealCJ.