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How news of Apollo 11 mission traveled from the surface of the moon to the prison walls of the Hanoi Hilton in Vietnam

Posted at 7:44 AM, Jul 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-19 13:06:28-04

CLEVELAND — On the day Ohioan Neil Armstrong took the world's most famous step on to the surface of the Moon, Ohioan Tom Moe could only hope to take a step free of the shackles and leg irons that restrained him. Moe was for more than five years a prisoner of war in Vietnam and on July 20, 1969 was in the infamous Hanoi Hilton in a cell next to the late Senator John McCain.

"What the Vietnamese Communists wanted to do was to not only break us down but to just demoralize us, demonize our country, there was nothing we could do good," Moe recalled.

And so it was when it came to the subject of the Apollo 11 mission, the prisoners were told by their captors the mission was a failure, America was a failure.

"Then one day a letter came through which is almost a miracle in itself," Moe said of the rare times the Vietnamese would allow prisoners to hear from home. The letters were almost always heavily redacted as this one was but while their captors were focused on what was in the letter they missed the thing that was on the envelope, a stamp that showed Neil Armstrong walking on the moon.

"It was so uplifting to us. We weren't going to get down no matter what the Vietnamese Communists did but to see that stamp, what an uplift," Moe said.

It was a story he would tell from time to time with one of those occasions coming in January of 2011 at the swearing-in of Senator Rob Portman which was also attended by Portman's close friend, Neil Armstrong.

"It just came about in a conversation and someone said you need to tell Neil Armstrong he's sitting right behind you," and so Tom Moe said he did.

"He was delighted to hear it and when I told him the story I think it struck home to him," he said. "That even reaching into a prison camp the message of light, of what our country is and what it can do, to put a man on the moon to find a cure for disease, whatever it might be and it really was an inspiration to him I think."