The death of Neil Armstrong has inspired many moving tributes, but none quite like the op-ed that Senator John McCain penned in The Washington Post yesterday. As only he could, McCain describes how one small step on the moon meant the world to prisoners in Hanoi.
Neil Armstrong’s passing reminded me of the moment I learned of his historic accomplishment. I didn’t gather with my family around the television to watch him take his “small step” onto the surface of the moon. When the momentous event occurred, I had no idea it was happening. I and several hundred comrades were otherwise engaged — prisoners of war in the enemy’s capital, where in 1969, news could travel slowly.
Unable to watch the landing on television, McCain writes that years passed before the news of America's triumph penetrated the prison.
Once in a while, the Vietnamese unwittingly let a little good news slip by. One evening, [Hanoi] Hannah played a clip of a speech by a prominent American opponent of the war. It was a quick, throwaway line in a long list of diatribes about the war and the president. But we all caught it. The quote was something like: “President Nixon can put a man on the moon, but he can’t end the war in Vietnam.”
... In that one screw-up, that brief mention of glorious news, our morale soared. We felt almost physically strengthened as we communicated with each other in whispers and tap code: “Did you hear that? Did you? We put a man on the moon. My God, we did it.”
Read the full op-ed here for the incredible story of how two heroes forged a bond across space and time.