Aug. 31, 2012 — -- Neil Armstrong, the Apollo 11 astronaut who died last weekend, was remembered today as a space pioneer, a reluctant hero and a man who bore with dignity the burden of being a national icon.
A private memorial service, in suburban Cincinnati not far from Armstrong's last home, was attended by family, longtime friends and fellow astronauts. Some of them spoke publicly or released statements before or after the service. Sen. Rob Portman, the Ohio Republican who counted Armstrong as a friend, delivered the eulogy, said NASA.
"He was a groundbreaking Naval aviator and the world's most famous astronaut," said Portman in a statement after Armstrong died, "but it was his humble and gracious response to the torrent of attention that followed his accomplishments that may have set him apart most."
Friends who attended the service said it was upbeat and informal. There were a Navy honor guard and the playing of Taps, but beyond that, little ceremony. In addition to Portman, there were comments from Armstrong's two sons, Rick and Mark.
Many of America's early astronauts were there, said one who attended, including:
President Obama ordered that flags be flown at half-staff today, and a spokeswoman for Armstrong's family said there would be a public memorial in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 12.
Lovell and Eugene spoke at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center this morning, where a research fund was to be set up in Armstrong's memory. The Armstrong family also urged people to donate to scholarship funds organized by the Telluride Foundation and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
"America has truly lost a legend," said Cernan, who, as the commander of Apollo 17 in 1972, was the last man to walk on the moon. Cernan, in remarks reported by The Associated Press, praised Armstrong for the low-key way in which he played the role of historic figure.
"There's nobody that I know of that could have accepted the challenge and responsibility that came with being that with more dignity than Neil Armstrong," Cernan said.
Charles Bolden, a former astronaut who is now administrator of NASA, was in Cincinnati for the memorial and issued a statement. "A grateful nation offers praise," he said, "and salutes a humble servant who answered the call and dared to dream."