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Commentary: A giant leap from Ohio

  • Story Highlights
  • Bob Greene: Wapakoneta is a tiny town in northwest Ohio
  • The town is Neil Armstrong's birthplace and where he dreamed of flying
  • Greene says the mission to the moon is a symbol of what we can achieve
  • Greene: "This is about the limitless capacity of the human heart."
By Bob Greene
CNN Contributor
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Editor's note: CNN Contributor Bob Greene is a bestselling author whose new book is "Late Edition: A Love Story."

Bob Greene says a small town in Ohio is one of the most inspiring places in the United States.

Bob Greene says a small town in Ohio is one of the most inspiring places in the United States.

(CNN) -- All over the world this weekend, people are peering up into the night, trying to catch a glimpse of a sliver of the moon.

They're thinking about the moon because of Monday's 40-year anniversary of mankind's first lunar landing. And more than a few people are undoubtedly allowing themselves to dream of traveling to the moon themselves.

It's not going to happen. For almost all of us, it can be said with certainty:

We're never going to go to the moon.

But there's good news:

We can go to Wapakoneta.

Wapakoneta is a town of barely 9,000 people in northwestern Ohio. It may be, in its own quiet way, the most inspiring single place in the United States.

I-75 runs right past it; in your car, it's there and then it's gone before you even know it.

Yet if you make the decision to leave the interstate and turn onto Bellefontaine Street, which takes you into town, you will find yourself thinking about life's most glorious possibilities in a way you seldom have before.

Each time I go to Wapakoneta, I try to put into words the feeling of walking those small-town streets, and each time I fear I come up short. But the lesson of Wapakoneta remains constant.

A boy from this town -- a boy born here, a boy whose father, a mid-level state employee, was required to move from city to city some twenty different times before ending up back in Wapakoneta for the boy's high school years -- looked up at the Ohio sky and decided that he would soar.

If the town at times felt cloistered and confining -- if the horizons the boy could physically view on the flat landscape of Auglaize County appeared circumscribed -- he did not let that stop him.

Down through the ages, it was the one task that was almost beyond conceiving, never mind beyond doing.

Until, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong, of Wapakoneta, walked on the moon.

You want to talk about the strength of the human will -- of the American will?

You want to talk about absolute proof that no matter where you're from, if you set your heart to it, you can do anything?

Take a trip to Wapakoneta.

Stroll through the neighborhoods, stop in at the stores, maybe catch a movie at the old Wapa Theater on Willipie Street.

Try to imagine being the boy who did exactly that, when no one knew his name.

His family had had to pick up and move so often, because of his dad's job, that no one could have blamed him if his only desire had been to finally cling to one place.

But he decided that if he was destined always to be in motion, then he should make the most of it.

He was fifteen when, his family living back in Wapakoneta again, he signed up for lessons at the airstrip north of town.

He had made up his mind: He wanted to escape the earth's bonds.

The moon was not the dream. The moon was merely the eventual landing strip.

The dream was to fly.

Walk around that town. If you're feeling hemmed in by life, if all your prospects seem to have dried up, if you feel stuck in place, walk around Wapakoneta. Then ask yourself: Is there anything that can stop a person whose belief in what he can accomplish is fierce and unyielding enough?

There is a little museum in town -- you can see it from I-75 -- that is dedicated to the life of the boy who once walked those same streets. The thing I have always loved best about the museum is the display of newspaper front pages from around the world on the day after the moon landing.

Every front page in every city in every country on the globe ran huge headlines announcing that the impossible had become real: that a man had walked on the moon. Some of the papers said just that -- that a man had reached the moon. Some made it more parochial -- they said that an American had walked on the moon.

But the Wapakoneta Daily News said it in the only good and proper way it could be said, in that town, on that day:

"Neil Steps on the Moon."

We all need to be reminded, from time to time, of just what we can do.

We all, no matter where we live, have moments when we think that the odds are just too great, that life's grandest accomplishments are for someone else.

And it's probably true that none of us will ever know the feeling of stepping onto the surface of the moon.

But this is really not about the moon. This is about the limitless capacity of the human heart.

So if there are moments when you begin to question what is out there for you, here's a suggestion:

Come to Wapakoneta sometime.

And look at the sky.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bob Greene.

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