(This column originally appeared in the July 14, 1969 edition of The Forum. Columnist Wayne Lubenow flew to Florida to report on the Apollo 11 launch. Six days later, on July 20, the spacecraft landed on the moon and astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the lunar soil.)
TITUSVILLE, Fla. —There it is! Right outside my window and across the Indian River.
It is bathed in spotlights this Sunday night and on Wednesday three brave men will ride the giant to the moon.
It is just seven miles across the Indian River to Cape Kennedy -- and from this place on the beach the massive Saturn 5 rocket looms over everything with its fragile capsule dotting the tip.
It is a thrill to see it from here. Today, NASA people will take me over for a closer look. And Wednesday morning ...
I must be the luckiest guy in the world. The chances of me getting a place to stay right along the beach with the rocket in full view have got to be around several million to one.
When my reservations were confirmed some weeks ago, I got the very last room to be had in all of Titusville.
To be honest with you, I was a little leery when they told me where I would be staying. It's called (maybe you better sit down for this) the Stevens Men's Residence.
Right away I figured I might be getting in with a bunch of males who were ... well, unusually graceful.
Either that or I figured an old man's home where you had to be in at 10 every night and the big thrill of the week was the checker tournament.
Not so. At least, so far no males have come beating down my door — for checkers or anything else.
But you couldn't ask for a better location. Right on the beach and — glory be — in full view of the Cape and the Apollo 11.
It is hot and humid here and the insects chirp so loudly in the palmetto along the beach that you can hear little else.
For this is Titusville -- eight years ago a sleepy southern village on the coast that the Kennedy space center turned into a boom town. But for all its space sophistication, it is still a small southern Florida town.
If you are without a car here -- and I am -- you are in trouble. The few taxi drivers could launch their own moon missile from what they charge for a two mile trip from the Titusville airport.
But from here at the Steven Men's Residence (somehow it still doesn't sound right) it is only a nice stroll along the beach to the big Holiday Inn Motel.
In the motel the walls are covered with framed, colored pictures of the previous space shots.
It is very quiet in the motel because the vanguard of the one million people that will be here for the big show have not yet arrived.
I enter into a conversation with the waiter. He wants to talk and he tells you that he served a lot of drinks to America's astronauts and he even has a picture of himself and Wally Schirra on the golf course.
"They are just ordinary nice guys," he says, "and they believe. Oh Lord, how they believe."
It is getting darker now and the Cape is lit up like a Christmas tree across the water and the moon is out.
And you look up at that Apollo 11 nestling in its cradle and then you look up at the moon, and you wonder how we ever came so far.
The spotlights give a halo effect to the Saturn monster and you sort of thrill at the way we are announcing all this to the world without a shred of secrecy.
Today, as I said, I will see it close up — and it will do no good to try and explain to you the millions of complicated parts or the pounds of thrust or the thousands of people who got us this far.
All I can do is ask you to do me a favor. Tonight, walk out into your backyard and take a long, hard look at the moon. And then ask yourself this: If it was up to you to get a man up there, where would you start?
Well, there will be three lonely men atop that Saturn on Wednesday morning. I think the printing on one wall of the motel says it best.
"In a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there." — John F. Kennedy, 1961.