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Content here represents the voice of SIGNATURE SUNSETS, an informational initiative designed to broaden and brighten horizons in the funerary domain.

The material is an outgrowth of a pre-planning reference book, Pondering Leaves: Composing and Conveying Your Life Story's Epilogue, written by the author of this blog.

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

SYMBOLISM - NEIL ARMSTRONG

A FINAL FRONTIER

Neil Armstrong was “on board” when the decision was made relative to the disposition of his bodily remains. One might have assumed that this former astronaut would want a portion of his cremated particles to be encapsulated in a container attached to a rocket during a scheduled space mission.  Although a number of astrologically or astronomically oriented folks have taken that route, it’s an expensive way to “go out with a blast.”  Sub-orbital and orbital services for end-of-life purposes are available for anyone willing to spend big bucks to head toward far reaches of the cosmos in minimized form.  

Alternatively, this pioneer – whose “one small step” upon the moon’s surface signified “one giant leap for mankind” – chose to embrace connotation within an earthly domain.   Before joining the NASA program and carrying out space missions, he had served in the Navy.  An initial plunge into a Naval ROTC program while in college led to full immersion in his role during the Korean War – as a fighter pilot while stationed aboard an aircraft carrier in the Sea of Japan.  Water was always pivotal to his work, whether he was completing missions in a plane or heading back to earth in a spacecraft.  Upon returning from extraterrestrial odysseys, direct contact with it meant that he had arrived home. 

Knowing that, one might have assumed there would be a full-body sea burial by way of a Naval ship.  For this, a metal casket is prepared according to specifications that dictate boring of holes in the bottom, weighting with concrete, and wrapping with heavy bands.  Burials for veterans take place during regular missions, at which time a military ceremony is conducted and the casket that rests upon a conveyor apparatus is advanced over the ship’s side and into the water.  Ocean burials in similar fashion are available through maritime businesses as well. 

But the unassuming and private man who shunned celebrity opted for a less conspicuous exodus.  Instead of a widely heralded and televised “splashdown” like those so familiar to him in the past, Armstrong’s final journey to the ocean floor took place quietly in the absence of media.  His wife along with a Naval officer simply dropped the urn containing Neil’s cremated remains over the side of a Naval aircraft carrier – in a manner available to most all folks who at some time were members of the Armed Forces.  A restrained and succinct ceremony included remarks by a Navy chaplain, three volleys fired in tribute from a firing squad, and the playing of "Taps."  An American flag was folded according to tradition and presented to his wife.

The day before, a memorial service had been attended by about 1500 people in the Washington National Cathedral, where a stained glass window contains part of a moon rock the Apollo 11 crew brought back to earth.  Here is where this hero’s stellar life was recognized through meaningful tributes. Excerpts from a speech delivered by President John F. Kennedy fifty years ago alluded to the American rationale for moon exploration.  Diana Krall sang Bart Howard’s  “Fly Me To The Moon” as a reiteration of a rendition sung by her at the Smithsonian Institute in 2009 on the fortieth anniversary of the moon landing.  The service was broadcast via NASA’s television station. 

This was one of the universe’s most storied planet-trotting explorers.   Certainly, his ultimate ending warranted far more attention and pomp.  But as a pre-planner he had made his voice heard.  His wishes came to fruition in a way that was appropriate for him, untarnished by observances bespeaking societal expectations.  

And, in the end, relevance was achieved not only in terms of connecting with this trailblazer’s role in American history, but also by reflecting his characteristically humble persona.  Through commonplace measures, symbolism and significance prevailed. 
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