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Purdue Bands remembers
To know that astronaut Neil Armstrong marched down Purdue’s football field playing an instrument, sharing the same experience that thousands of other Purdue “All-American” Marching Band members have had, is something special indeed. Most people don’t feel like they have much in common with heroes on his level.
Armstrong, who died at age 82 on Aug. 25, was, after all, the first man on the moon. He landed a small spacecraft on a vast unknown frontier and walked out the door. His “small step” in a weightless lunar atmosphere riveted people all over the world who were bound to earth by gravity.
There was a freedom in that step that appeals to the American spirit. That spirit was nurtured by Purdue University and for a year of his time on campus by Purdue Bands where he followed up on a high school hobby and played baritone horn.
Neil never forgot Bands. Former director David Leppla said he was capable of delivering a dead-on imitation of Paul Spotts Emrick that cracked up band alums. He gave the department a significant donation.
Bands gave him its Alumni Achievement Award. Kappa Kappa Psi made him an honorary member. Neil took the service fraternity’s tiny membership pin with him to the moon. That pin, with a letter verifying its authenticity, is on display daily in the Band Lounge in Elliott Hall’s basement.
Records show that Armstrong only played in the band his sophomore year at Purdue. At that time, participation in the band was controlled by the R.O.T.C. and it boasted about 100 members, a far cry from the 372 today.
Gerald Fivel, president of the Indianapolis Meat Company, played baritone with Armstrong in the band that year.
“I hate to say this but we sat right next to each other, and I don’t know if we were even aware of each other. All I can remember is that he was a nice quiet guy,” says Fivel, a 1955 graduate in science
“Neil wasn’t talking into the stars or anything like that. He was just an ordinary young man having good time in the band. He had no idea what was going to happen to him; nobody did. He was just a straight, square-shooting kind of kid.”
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