We were there…

Nothing like the loss of a friend or relative to restore long-faded memories of them and the events you shared.

That’s my fallout from learning that Neil Armstrong passed over the weekend. On one side the description of his death — from complications the developed after bypass surgery — struck home for its striking familiarity. My father suffered a heart attack, needed and received a triple bypass and spent 10 days in ICU, never to recover.

This familiarity gave me a palpable sense of what Mr. Armstrong’s family endured and their grief is shared here amid personal flashbacks to my father’s final days and a renewed sense of loss.

But my personal familiarity with Mr. Armstrong sharpens my sense of loss as one more personal than that of a fan losing a personal hero.

We met many years ago, after he left NASA and my job as a reporter in Washington, D.C. occasionally put me in proximity to the famous, the great, the heroic and the mighty.

Mr. Armstrong was all of those and none of those — at least in the way he conducted his life after Apollo 11. Friendly, engaging, but eschewing any of the ego or hero worship that afflicted others, he conducted his life with quiet purpose, never ceasing to seek equal credit for the unnamed thousands of anonymous workers, scientists and technicians who contributed to the success of Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins and Neil Armstrong.

It was a reception at the National Air & Space Museum, a fitting locale and a frequent stop on my daily travels between the FAA, the Capital and my office in N.W. D.C. Mr. Armstrong engaged in friendly conversation when we met, tolerating the embarrassed intrusion of a scribe who caught him staring at an Apollo exhibit at the museum — a scribe resisting the amateurish urge to ask for an autograph or for him to pose for a photo with the feeling-fortunate reporter.

He said something about how the moments on the Moon seemed so fleeting but had seemed to last forever in memories.

My response was something along the lines of agreement, noting how millions of us felt the same. “We were all with you that day, everyone on Earth.”

“Yes, you were…nice meeting you…” He was nice enough to call me by name as he moved on a little farther from the growing crowd. When my boss later asked if he said anything worth reporting, my feeble response was, “It wasn’t that kind of conversation.” Oh, was all he could manage.

Mr. Armstrong belongs to the ages and has for more than 40 years, forever associated with his singular “luck” as he put it, to be the human to take mankind’s first step off our home world and onto another.

You’re with us still, Mr. Armstrong, and always will be.