Peace Corps
Thai 27
1969
 
 
 
 




On July 20, 1969 American Astronauts landed on the Moon. Here's how some of us remember that event 40 years later
Susie Becker Cooper:

I remember afterwards - Mona and I had to teach a special class to our combined schools - puchai and puying - held outside at my school in Nonthaburi - we had a megaphone, I think - and spent the night before constructing a huge paper
drawing of the booster rocket, the auxiliary fuel tanks, the Apollo capsule and the Lunar Landing Module.
I think I saw the event on a fuzzy black and white TV at a rahnahan across the street and down the road from our house, but I'm not sure. I think I was at school that day.

What I remember most is the teaching of that special class - hundreds of kids gathered outside, while Mona and I tried to explain the whole thing.

How many were in Bangkok when the astronauts came to visit and were in that parade? I got Neil Armstrong's autograph somehow!
I remember meeting Neil Armstrong, but none of the details.

Mona Melanson: What I remember about the moon landing was that the provincial governor supplied the school where I was teaching in Nontaburi with a TV for the day. We saw that broadcast I think after the actual landing, Renee is correct, we were in a different time zone. They put the TV up on the stage in the mostly open air auditorium that was also the cafeteria. A Thai nuclear physicist married to one of the women in Thai One or one of the very early groups was on TV explaining what was happening in Thai. I recalled meeting him and his wife at one of Kevin Delany’s many parties before the moon walk. Once or twice, I could hear Walter Cronkite say something in the background but for the most part I had to guess what was happening. They made me sit up front in the first row. I remember looking around at all those students and teachers and even a couple of monks from the temple next door were there. It hadn’t occurred to me to bring my camera with me that day, I had only brought it for a couple of Thai ceremonies.

When Neil Armstrong opened the door, stepped on the moon and said those famous words, the hundreds of students that were watching cheered. I was thrilled that the flight was successful and that some news about America was really good for a few days. I was congratulated for days afterwards by everyone I encountered at the school and elsewhere around the main part of the Jungwat. The boys and men would raise their right thumbs up and say something like, “America, number one” in English or Thai. I felt embarrassed that an even bigger spotlight was on me simply for being there.

Nontaburi is next to Bangkok and by then most of the students had seen a TV in a raan ahan somewhere in Nontaburi or Bangkok if not at a friend’s house. I think the Thai government sent out TVs to provincial governments all around the country. This made me think that for some Thais it may have been the first time they had ever watched a TV program. I remember thinking how amazing that was, to see your first TV show and it was about a man walking on the moon. Later the moon landing program ran in Thai movie theaters too.

For weeks afterwards, many of the boy students would imitate the exaggerated ways Neil walked in his space suit. I remember some of the younger boys asking me why Americans walked like that or why didn’t I didn’t walk like that too? Those types of simple questions I could answer in Thai but not the more complicated ones about the rocket and space suit that some of the teachers were asking me while we watched the TV. The science teacher with the best knowledge of English helped me explain some things to the other teachers because she could understand some of the scientific words I used in English like “gravity.” That experience led us to become friends and in my second year I lived with her and one other teacher and three students.

What I remember best about meeting Neil Armstrong was how approachable he was. Kevin Delany threw one of those “Thai market Style” dinners for Neil Armstrong outdoors under a long tin roof shed at the Polo Field. Neil told us that he had been flown around upcountry and met with Thai villagers. He told us that trying to convince some of them that he had really walked on the moon was harder than having taken the walk. Apparently some of them had asked him through an interpreter if he had seen the Moon Goddess and when he replied that he had not, then they said they didn’t believe that he had walked on the moon. I recall that he asked us if the people we worked with believed that he walked on the moon or not. We assured him that they did and we told him a little more about the Moon Goddess and the seven genies that are really Chinese in origin and the rabbit that Thais see on the face of the moon rather than the American version of a “man in the moon.” Neil told us that he thought our jobs were harder than his. I think he was really shaken by that encounter with those villagers.

The one former Peace Corps Volunteer who had served in Southern Thailand that I had met in D.C. before training recommended that I tell all my family and friends to use commemorative stamps whenever they wrote me. That was probably one of the best pieces of advice anyone could have given. Soon, I was getting mail with all the stamps showing Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. The Thai postman always asked me for stamps and I always gave him some and then gave some to teachers and used the rest for prizes in class. I always got my mail, even the one or two packages came though. However, no matter how hard I tried, even by the end of the two years, some of my students were still saying, “s-aa-pace” and not “space.”

Chesley Prince: I was at what was then the Teacher Training School in Sakonnakhon. Not realizing that the moon landing was imminent I was in the English faculty office preparing a lesson plan. Some of the other teachers came and took me
to our eating pavilion, where a television had appeared as if by magic. The picture was grainy and I wasn't really sure what I was watching. Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon but I don't recall having any volume, so I didn't
hear what he said. As I recall, it was dark.
For several days afterward people congratulated me and expressed their approval of the moon landing. Having had nothing to do with it and not even knowing it was about to happened, I felt somewhat embarrassed. Later I noticed pictures of the lunar lander with the Thai flag on the side. At firstI was annoyed at the flag as, after all, the U.S.A. had done the job. On
giving the matter more thought, I concluded that (even though the use of the
Thai flag and the lunar lander was just a sales gimmick) the Thais saw the landing as a triumph and source of pride for them too and anachievement that made everybody proud. Cathy, my future wife, was in Paris at thetime and she told me that the French had the same reaction, i.e., that it was a triumph and source of pride for them as well.
Steve Tripp:I remember it well. I was at Chiangmai University which backs up to a mountain. At the rear of the university, in a kind of wooded no-mans-land, between the border of the university and the slope of the mountain was a primitive little noodle shop. I would guess that the proprietors were squatting on the land and may have been “borrowing” the electricity, which lit a handful of 30w bulbs and a TV. As I sat there in this crude place with its dirt floor and “thatched” roof I was exquisitely aware of the irony of being in such a place watching men walk on the moon. I also thought about the peculiar modern link between the simple, natural surroundings and the TV which connected me and the others in the shop to another, complex, unnatural, world. One thing I did not feel was pride, surprisingly. Even though I am a conservative, I have always found patriotism to be a slightly embarrassing emotion. I have never felt that if an American wins the 100 meter dash in the Olympics, it somehow reflected on me, and I guess the moonwalk was the same.
Vance Hyndman: Was anyone with me at the First Hotel in Bangkok for the television in the lobby there? I remember the live transmission of street scenes of people in New York watching the moon landing. I felt a great homesickness. That must have been one of the first satellite links around the world. It certainly was strange. Also recall that the Apollo 11 massage parlor opened right then and lasted for decades, I believe, maybe still there down near Surawong.
Ernie Geefay: I was suppose to show up for my class at Horwang School in Bangkok that day.
I really disliked my teaching job at the time (mostly my inexperience) and I used the occasion to try to get out of teaching for the day.
I called my Achaan Yai and told him I wanted to stay home for the day so I could watch the TV (of course...we didn't have a TV)
He said, politely, that I needed to show up for class.
So I ended up going to school.
Mike Schmicker: So much for my memory. I could have sworn Ernie Geefay got the day off to see the moon landing on TV. He, Sam Sorich and I shared a house in Bangkok. I telephoned Wat Bovornives school that morning and said I wouldn’t be coming in that day. Ajaan Prayud understood. He gave another teacher my Maw Saw 5 class. Ernie, Sam and I knew Thai Army TV Channel 7 was going to broadcast the touchdown live, and we wanted to join the 500 million people around the globe glued to their TV screens; all we had to do was find a TV, since we didn’t have one. We also needed something memorable to toast the feat with. Unfortunately, we were flat broke. A glitch in the Peace Corps fiscal bureaucracy was holding up our monthly allowance checks. But karma works in strange ways. Khunying Phara, our landlady, suddenly appeared at our door, bursting with excitement. “Maa reo reo!” Sam and I (and Ernie?) hurried over to her house and watched on a tiny, 12-inch, black-and-white TV as a miniature, white blob stepped off a miniature, spidery ladder onto what might have been the moon. Then her servant brought out a tray of Coca-Colas and we raised a toast to America. Nixon later sent Armstrong on a world tour to bolster America’s image as anti-Vietnam war protests peaked around the globe. When Neil stopped over in Thailand, he shook hands and signed photos at the American Embassy. I had him inscribe one “To the students of Wat Bovornives” to give to Ajaan Prayud, then offered Armstrong a souvenir in return. Within weeks of the moon landing, an enterprising Bangkok merchant came out with packs of “Apollo” brand cigarettes featuring the Apollo 11 crew logo.

“Trade you for a moon rock,” I joked, offering him the pack. He looked baffled. “I don’t smoke,” he said.
(Kevin Delany: Correction. It was not the dastardly Richard Nixon who sent Neil Armstrong to Thailand. Armstrong was a member of the Peace Corps Advisory Board and made the trip in that capacity. )

Hugh Leong: The day before the moon landing I was walking down Tapae Rd in Chiang Mai and one of my students came up to me and asked, "What do you think about Armstrong?" I hadn't a clue what he was talking about. "What do you mean?" I asked. "About Neil Armstrong going to the moon." he said. I still didn't know what he was referring to. I hadn't read a newspaper, or seen TV since I had been to Thailand. So he filled me in on what was about to happen and I was pretty flabbergasted. The next day I went to a fellow teacher's house. She was the only one who owned a TV set. It turns out that she was the only one in her whole neighborhood who owned a TV. So I sat there in her living room, in front of a 12" TV screen, watching the first man on the moon with 35 to 40 Thai villagers, all as excited as I was to see this remarkable feat. I can remember that as if it were yesterday.
Renee Trent: wasn't the moon landing broadcast in Thailand late at night? I gathered with the 70 young women in my open dorm at Korat Teachers College and watched the amazing landing. All clapped and congratulated me as the only American in sight. We were simply thrilled as a group. I thought it was an exciting happening, beyond comprehension, but amazing. My father worked for NASA at the time, so I had a tenuous connect to it all.
Pock Otis: On that date I was studying Japanese, of all things, at the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii. I remember a very good friend, Suwana I think her name was, and some others, were with me watching the moon landing and walk on a TV with me at the Center, the University. It was very exciting.
Lloyd Miller:I guess I was one of the few "citified" or urbanized volunteers living amidst the sophistication and technology in Bangkok. The English Language Center for which I worked and the Thai University Commission in conjunction with Ford Foundation Sponsorship made our office technology possible. Lots of funding. We were between classes in the teachers' room with a television. It was perhaps the grainiest video I can ever remember seeing. But his phrase "a small step for man...." came across beautifully. Our students (medical science graduate students) were really enthused and because of their advanced English language skills communicated well their excitement for the occasion. It was a real charge for me and only made be wish to be back in the States to share in the excitement of the event with fellow Americans. But the pride of being an American in Thailand offset set that absence. I was so proud and thrilled by it all. It seems so long ago. Rebroadcasts today on a 42" plasma high definition television somehow makes 1969 seem so primitive. I guess it was but still very exciting.
Janice Dunn Oldroyd: My very rural teacher's college brought in a TV to the rong aahan so students could see the moon landing. It was the first time I had seen a TV since I arrived in Nakorn Srithamarat. It was also the last time. Who knows where that TV came from and where it went! The picture was grainy at best and non-existent most of the time. It came in and out. I seem to remember a full moon. Is that correct? I looked at the moon and thought about where I was and what I was doing so far away from home. If I had to pin a word to what I was feeling, it would be "awe." The whole thing just seemed so impossible. My being so far away from home also seemed impossible at times.

I also remember students for days after that congratulating me, as if I had been the one on the moon. At the time it seemed so strange to me. It did bring home the notion that, as Peace Corps Volunteers, we were representatives of our country, whether we liked it or not.

Rachel Baker: I dont remember much about that time. Only thing I recall was that Catherine French, a Thai 23? or so volunteer, said her housekeeper stopped and asked her about the space mission. Did the farong know that the Americans were telling people they had gone to the moon?! The woman was bewildered by this childish tale-telling---just imagine thinking Thai people would credit such a wild story! Nobody could to up there without the king. Catherine told her about the space race, etc. but could not persuade her that the television footage was real, and that it had really happened. Well, I feel the same way when I look at old clips of Apollo 11, or remember the strange background of NASA missions.
Gaynor Turner: The broadcasting lately of the moon landing did stir up memories in me also but I was not so fortunate as to see the original TV broadcast but of course have seen it many times since. Loei was a bit out of the way and TV were a rarity there. Still it was quite a cause celebre and I do not feel that it was just an American event but that the whole world took pride that MAN had made it to the moon. I still feel that way. Nice to think back on those days.
Ken De Bevoise: Wynn and I were going to watch the event at the shop of a friend in the center of Phitsanulok, but we couldn't decide whether we should feel proud about being American or being a Man. We compromised - she painted her face red, white, and blue and put an American flag of the back of her bike. I dressed as a Man. Unfortunately, we ran into a problem. Communists from the mountains out beyond Petchaboon infiltrated that day and set up roadblocks. We were stopped and to make a long story short, they let me go out of international solidarity. They took Wynn away. I went on and watched the landing and drank cold Pepsi. I never saw her again.
Paulette Seiler: I was based in Chantaburi, about a 6 hour bus ride from Bangkok in those days, before the expressway was built. My principal's son-in-law was a Thai Marine based in the Sattahip area I believe, between Rayong and Chonburi. She packed me in the car with her family , and we drove for hours to get to the Thai marine base where she knew we would have reliable access to a TV.
I don't remember whether it was day or night, but I do remember feeling overwhelmed by the sense of community as we watched the broadcast together, particularly watching with the Thai marines as the Vietnam war waged on a few countries to our east.
As Gaynor mentioned, I also felt a bursting pride for all mankind collectively, to have made such a startling "leap" as Armstrong said. It did feel like the whole world was cheering that achievement together.
At least we know it is possible, though terribly rare, for the world to come together at times.
Kevin Snow: I remember attempting to sit cross-legged on a wood floor (the TV was in a fellow teacher's quarters and we were all living in little bungalow units on stilts on the outskirts of Nakorn Sawan) and feeling the pain and the heat, not to mention the other-worldness of being in a very foreign place. I was not that well adjusted to the place, having arrived only in May. Still, it was clearly preferable to be in Nkorn Sawan than in Vietnam. I remember the suspense of waiting for the craft to actually land, and then, of course, the moonwalk. I did feel pride in the national accomplishment, bewildered as I was, and the boys in school couldn't get enough of Apollo 11 and it made excellent material to teach from.

Despite the surprise that I'm still walking the planet, it does, however, seem strange and sad that 40 years later we're still at war in Iraq and Afghanistan (with no real end in sight), the Great Barrier Reef and polar ice caps are disappearing, we have no equitable or affordable national health care policy, and Buzz Aldrin (and others) are agitating to fly men to Mars. Go figure. And would you believe that while I was typing this recollection Don Blakemore called me from Hawaii? We had a good laugh and send you all best wishes.
Bonita Estes: Gosh, I was in on the planning of one of the Armstrong celebrations and I don't have one of the cards or an autograph or anything -- probably drinking too much Singha!

I remember watching the landing in either the Peace Corps library!
Dewleen Baker: For me too, it is an indelible memory. The teachers at our middle school in Petburi amassed a number of TV sets which they set up in the outdoor combination auditorium/lunchroom, which was a covered open area surrounded by plants and general greenery, and I watched the landing with my students and the entire school. The principal and teachers managed to time things so that we started watching prior to touchdown, and watched through the successful setting-of-foot on the moon and the moonwalk. I was impressed by the intense interest, excitement and pride that all around me, students and teachers alike, showed as the event unfolded. What a wonderful place to view the landing!
Fran Gelsone:I remember being at a western type restaurant with Allen. He spotted Neil Armstrong across the room, popped up, and requested a signature on a baht bill. Me, I just thought, "Let the man eat in peace." Of course, Mr. Armstrong was gracious, accommodating and smiling. I remember feeling that that one small moment exhibited at least as much about humanity as the moon walk did. A great man is gracious with the one as he is with the many.