Shelton resident recalls performing for Apollo astronauts

Photo of Brian Gioiele

July 20, 1969 is a day that will forever be remembered as one of the most significant in not only American history, but also that of the world.

Eddie Ostrowski, a Shelton resident since 1986, was among the millions watching around the world that day, captivated as Apollo 11 blasted off from Cape Kennedy (as it was then known), soaring to the moon, where Neil Armstrong would become the first man to walk on the lunar surface.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Ostrowski, recalling the tense, yet exhilarating hours as Americans throughout the country and people worldwide waited to hear word of the astronauts’ feats. “It was like time stopped when it happened. Everything stopped when they landed on the moon.”

Ostrowski said that for millions, the moon landing will always be remembered as a moment of hope in a decade filled with tumult — from the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and his brother, Robert, and Dr. Martin Luther King to the March on Washington, D.C., to the Vietnam War.

But in Ostrowski’s case, he can also remember the impact of the Apollo 11 experience every day thanks to the replica plaque — similar to that which sits on the moon’s surface — that he holds dear in his Shelton home.

The plaque was a gift he received when, as part of “The Commandant’s Own” U.S. Marines Corps Drum & Bugle Corps, he performed at the President’s Dinner honoring Armstrong and fellow Apollo 11 astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins less than a month after their return to Earth.

“Historically speaking, I’d have to say the President’s Dinner held in Los Angeles honoring the Apollo 11 astronauts, the first men on the moon, was my most memorable performance,” said Ostrowski, who was a snare drummer. “As a memento for the occasion, each member of my unit received an engraved stainless-steel commemorative plaque, similar to the one left behind on the moon.”

After blast off, Armstrong radioed at 4:17 p.m. eastern standard time, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” At 10:56 p.m., on July 20, 1969, Armstrong stepped out onto the lunar soil with the words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

After their return, the trio immediately began a whirlwind “Great Leap” celebratory tour to 25 foreign countries. But the party began on Aug. 13, 1969, when the three astronauts were honored with ticker tape parades in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, capped by the President’s Dinner at the Century Plaza Hotel, where Ostrowski and his fellow performers entertained President Richard Nixon, the three astronauts and hundreds of dignitaries, from politicians to actors to business leaders.

“It was just really special,” said Ostrowski, who entered the Marines in 1967, becoming a snare drummer in “The Commandant’s Own” USMC Drum & Bugle Corps stationed at the Marine Barracks located at the corner of 8th and I Streets in Washington, D.C.

After graduating high school in 1967, Ostrowski said he could not afford private college and every community college was full. Since he knew he was about to be drafted into the military anyway, Ostrowski said he joined the Marines, a move that his father, an Army veteran of World War II, accepted but his mother did not.

“At the time, rifle training in other service branches was at 50, 100 and 200 yards. In the Marines, it was 200, 300 and 500 yards — that was my inspiration to serve in the USMC,” said Ostrowski.

Ostrowski had started drumming in 1963 with the Silver Falcons Drum & Bugle Corps in Stamford.

“Back in the day, just about every town had at least one drum and bugle corps represent them,” said Ostrowski. “Having had few distractions as a teenager, it wasn’t unusual for me to practice three to four hours a day on my drum pad. Little did I know there would be a demand for my passion not too far in the future.”

Ostrowski left the Marines not long after the moon landing and his performance in Los Angeles, but he said his experiences as a Marine — and this chance to entertain American heroes is something he carries with him to this day.

“I’d like to mention all Marines are riflemen,” said Ostrowski. “For those who made the ultimate sacrifice so that I could relish in my past — Semper Fi.”