The Best Speech Never Given

(The never-read eulogy for the Apollo 11 Lunar Landing Module crew, Aldrin and Armstrong.)

As the Apollo Program neared the goal of landing two men on the moon and bringing them safely home to Earth, Frank Borman assigned Nixon speechwriter William Safire a morbid task: “You want to be thinking of some alternative posture for the president in the event of mishaps.”  Borman was too diplomatic to say, “The astronauts might be stuck on the Moon and die there. You’d better have something ready for the president to say to the nation if that happens.”  Safire understood.  He had a limit of 300 words.  Three hundred words to help a president eulogize two heroes, uplift a crestfallen nation, and preserve the United States’ journey into space:

To      :     H. R. Haldeman

From  :     Bill Safire                               July 18, 1969.

IN EVENT OF MOON DISASTER:

Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.

These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.

These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding. They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown. In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man. In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.

­Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts. For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.

Why should we concern ourselves with a speech that was never given? About a tragedy that did not happen?  And that did-not-happening was over forty-seven years ago?

William Safire was an Army veteran writing for a Commander-in-Chief.  His understanding of the responsibilities of command, calculated risk, military history and literature show in his words.  Safire may have recalled the short message Eisenhower prepared on 5 June 1944 to release should the D-day landings fail.  Ike was prepared to accept full responsibility for failure.  Safire’s last line certainly echoes Rupert Brooke’s The Soldier.  Brooke, a Sub-Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, became ill and died in 1915 on the way to the British landing at Gallipoli.  He was buried on the island of Skyros.

“If I should die, think only this of me:

That there’s some corner of a foreign field

That is forever England.” – from The Soldier, Brooke

Edwin (‘Buzz’) Aldrin and Neil Armstrong were both veterans of a foreign war, each having flown combat missions over Korea.  Armstrong, who passed away in 2012, was a VFW member.  I could not confirm that Aldrin is, but he is certainly eligible.

Both Aldrin and Armstrong went on another ‘deployment’ – this one almost 250,000 miles from CONUS – a mission much more hazardous than we knew at the time.

They both returned from that ‘second deployment.’  President Nixon did not need to give the Best Speech Never Given.

You made it back, too.  Older, wiser, and a VFW member.  The final chapter in your story remains to be written, and you – not a President’s speech writer – are the author.

Source for the text of the speech (and an image of Safire’s typewritten memo)

 

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