WASHINGTON (NNS) -- The nation had a chance to say goodbye to Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, during a televised memorial service at the Washington National Cathedral Sept. 13.
The former Navy pilot and astronaut passed away Aug. 25 from complications following a heart surgery performed Aug. 8. He was 82 years old.
"Neil will always be remembered for taking human kind's first small step in a world beyond our own," said Charles Bolden, current administrator of NASA. "But it was courage, grace and humility he displayed throughout his life that lifted him above the stars. Neil Armstrong left more than footprints and a flag on the moon. In fact, as President Obama said in a letter to [Neil's widow Carol] and family this morning, 'Future generations will draw inspiration from his spirit of discovery, humble composure and pioneering leadership, in setting a bold new course for space exploration. The imprint he left on the surface of the moon, and the story of human history, is matched only by the extraordinary mark he left on the hearts of all Americans.'"
Family, friends, politicians and fellow astronauts lined the pews at the ceremony, sharing their thoughts on the life of the notoriously private veteran.
Retired Navy Capt. and former astronaut Eugene Cernan recalled Armstrong's generous spirit.
"Neil was always willing to give of himself. When Neil, Jim Lovell and myself had the opportunity to visit the troops in Iraq... meeting them in chow halls, control centers, and yes, even armored carrier and helicopters, those enthusiastic men and women, yet to be born when Neil walked on the moon, were mesmerized by his presence. In a typical Neil fashion, he would always walk in, introduce himself as if they didn't know who he was, and he'd always give them a 'Hi, how are you guys doing.' Asked one overwhelmed, inquisitive Marine, 'Mr. Armstrong, why are you here?' Neil's thoughtful and sincerely honest reply was, 'Because you are here.'"
Addressing Armstrong, a visibly emotional Cernan added, "It's now for you a new beginning, but for us, I promise you, it is not the end. Farewell, my friend."
Armstrong flew nearly 80 missions during the Korean War. During one such flight, the right wing of Armstong's plane was clipped by a cable wire over North Korea. He managed to fly into friendly territory before parachuting to safety.
After being honorably discharged from the Navy, Armstrong joined NASA as part of its second group of astronauts. He then went on to command the Apollo 11 mission that saw him walk on the moon in July of 1969. After the mission was successfully completed, Armstrong and his crew landed in the Pacific Ocean where they were picked up by Sailors.
Returning to the water meant his mission was complete, said Lovell, Armstrong's friend and fellow astronaut, in an interview with USA Today.
"He's a Navy man," said Lovell. "It's how he knew he was finished. It's how he knew his work was done."
Armstrong will be buried at sea.