Neil Armstrong, Bob Hope and Gov. James Rhodes in Wapakoneta (photo courtesy of Ohio History Connection)
Ohio Life

Neil Armstrong Returns to Wapakoneta

On Sept. 6, 1969, the first man to walk on the moon returned to his hometown for a hero’s welcome. Comedian Bob Hope and Gov. James Rhodes joined him.

It was the third homecoming celebration for astronaut and Wapakoneta native Neil Armstrong since being selected as the first civilian astronaut in 1962, but the Auglaize County native’s 1969 return home after walking on the moon was a special one.

Joined by Ohio Gov. James Rhodes and Ohio native and comedian Bob Hope, Armstrong was greeted by more than 70,000 people in his hometown of Wapakoneta on Sept. 6, 1969. It was his first trip home since taking his steps on the moon on July 20.

Al Kattman reported in the Sept. 7, 1969, edition of The Lima News that Armstrong was touched by the show of devotion and admiration from his hometown.

“Astronaut Neil Armstrong had tears in his eyes at his Saturday afternoon landing at the Auglaize County Fairgrounds in Wapakoneta, some four miles from the scene of his birth, but they didn’t come from a blinding sun that beat down overhead,” Kattman wrote.

During his visit, Armstrong attended several events, including a reunion of the Wapakoneta High School Class of 1947, a luncheon of dignitaries and a parade through a 2-mile stretch of Wapakoneta ending at the Auglaize County Fairgrounds for a ceremony.

Tim Fought, a reporter for the Chillicothe Gazette, wrote in the newspaper’s Sept. 6, 1969, edition that more than 15 Ohio counties contributed sheriff’s deputies for the event, while police from Lima and other local communities were also on hand to help handle the crowds.

“The four-block downtown section of Wapakoneta was draped in red, white and blue bunting,” Fought reported. “Banners stretched across the street read ‘Welcome Home Neil,’ other banners read ‘God speed, Neil.’ A reminder of the town’s prayers as Armstrong stepped onto the moon July 20.”

Tables lined the streets, selling everything from photographs of Armstrong to pennants and “moonshot” glasses to raise funds for Wapakoneta’s not-yet-built Neil Armstrong Space Museum, now known as the Armstrong Air & Space Museum.

After arriving at the fairgrounds, Hope told the crowd there was no way he was going to miss Armstrong’s homecoming.

“I haven’t seen anything like this in Ohio since I left — not even at the Ohio State Fair,” he said.

He then proceeded to tell a few jokes before bringing up the guest of honor.

“Hope said the astronaut had adjusted well since returning from space, ‘but he keeps throwing his shoes out the window and eating his toothpaste,’" Kattman reported for The Lima News. “This referred to disposal of trash in space and the fact astronaut food is put in tubes to facilitate eating in weightless conditions.”

After receiving a two-minute standing ovation from the crowd, Armstrong said that although scientists had examined more than 80 pounds of moon rocks that were harvested during the Apollo 11 mission, they were unable to find any organic matter.

“But I think you know better now,” Armstrong told the crowd before delivering the punch line. “There was a Buckeye on the moon.”