CLEVELAND — While America remembers the accomplishments of the Apollo 11 mission 50 years ago, Senator Rob Portman is remembering a friend in Neil Armstrong. The two developed a close relationship over the years with Portman sharing on the floor of the Senate last week the thrill of having Armstrong as his guest when he was sworn into the Senate in 2011.
'As we walked into the Capitol, we looked up on the left and saw a mural. It is a mural that is still on the first floor of the Capitol on the Senate side, and it is of Neil Armstrong on the face of the moon. I pointed it out to Neil and his wonderful wife, Carol, who was with us, and Neil’s comment was, ‘That’s interesting,'" Portman recalled. "For the 30 or 40 people who were with us walking in the Capitol that day, they didn’t think it was interesting, they thought it was amazing. I later found out that Neil Armstrong was the only American living to have a mural painted of him in the U.S. Capitol."
Portman also recalled asking the astronaut if he'd consider speaking at a Veterans Memorial dedication in Mason, Ohio.
"He said 'let me check it out Rob' and I figured he was going to check out his schedule," Portman said. "Neil got in his car, I found out later and drove to Mason by himself and he walked through that whole Memorial, called me back the next day and said 'I'd love to do it.'"
This week Portman also reflected on a conversation he had with Armstrong following an official visit Portman made to NASA's Plum Brook station in Sandusky.
"I haven't talked about that much," Portman said. "I went up to Plum Brook and saw what they were doing and was impressed as you know they have really renovated that facility and brought in all kinds of new business, primarily U.S. government business but also private sector business. So it was exciting it was getting back on its feet."
Portman was so excited about the Plum Brook facility, he thought it deserved a more fitting name.
"Then I went down to Cincinnati and I asked Neil if I could come over and speak to him. I went to his house met with him and told him what we had seen at Plum Brook and how exciting it was," Portman said. "At the end of the conversation I said you know what Neil I'm interested in naming this the Neil Armstrong Test Center rather than Plum Brook, Plum Brook is just a geographic name and you know I think you're name ought to be on it, who deserves it better."
Armstrong's response was a humble one.
"And he said 'Rob, you know I appreciate that but I'm really not interested, it's not about me.' It was just classic Neil Armstrong," Portman said in looking back on that conversation eight years ago. "He was an amazing guy with regards to his achievements but to me what he did outside the spotlight was even more impressive and that is to lead a humble honorable life and therefore a great model for all of us."
The questions poised to Portman might have sparked some ideas regarding Armstrong.
"Since you raised it, I might have to start thinking about it again whether we should initiate another effort," Portman said.