On July 20, 1969, at 1:17 p.m., a baby boy was born at Northwest Hospital. It was the exact minute that the lunar module Eagle from Apollo 11 landed on the moon. The boy's name: Neil Armstrong Dial, who is now an attorney with Foster Pepper in Seattle.
On July 20, 1969, at exactly 1:17 p.m., a baby boy was born at Northwest Hospital.
He had arrived on the exact day and minute that the lunar module Eagle, carrying Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, landed on the moon.
News of the baby boy would end up going worldwide — his name was Neil Armstrong Dial.
His dad, Dallas Dial, originally had thought that “Austin” might be a good name for his son. Dallas. Austin. You get the connection.
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But he and his wife, Patricia, went along with a publicity stunt they remember hospital staff enthusiastically promoting.
“I’ve always been in management and promotional stuff,” said Dallas Dial, who in 1969 was managing an electrical store. “It was OK with me.”
The hospital room was decorated by nurses with what was supposed to be an astronaut’s helmet (made out of aluminum foil) and a lunar module (made out of a Styrofoam cup with a cotton swab poking out of it).
For good measure there was an American flag and also a crescent-moon flower arrangement.
Soon, the newspaper people and radio and TV outlets flocked. The Associated Press picked up the baby boy’s story, and Teletype machines around the world began clicking away.
Stunts with kids have the potential of going quite haywire. But, sometimes, kids thrive because of the stunt they’re thrust into.
When Neil was about 2, the family received a letter from Armstrong. Neil’s uncle, John Richard Dallas, worked for the Government Accountability Office, and somehow could reach the astronaut.
A personal letter wishing his namesake the best in life and a signed photo of the astronauts arrived at the family’s home in Richmond Beach.
After the parents divorced, the letter was likely stored in a box somewhere, to the family’s regret.
In April 2006, Neil Armstrong Dial, of Auburn, now an attorney with Foster Pepper in Seattle, wrote a letter to the astronaut.
He wanted to meet Armstrong, introduce him to his wife and three children. Dial said he’d fly to wherever Armstrong wanted to meet.
“As you might imagine, since I can remember, I’ve felt a connection with you,” Dial wrote Armstrong.
“I’ve felt inspired in my life because of the namesake. I am always impressed by the interest that people show when they hear that I was born on the same minute of the moon landing.
“Most people, of a certain age and including those who would have been very young at the time, are able to tell me exactly what they were doing the moment I was born!”
More about the letter, and how Armstrong responded, later.
Dial’s parents remembered the day of his birth.
“He was two weeks early. It was a breech birth, and he had the cord around his neck for a little bit,” said his mother, now named Patricia Young. “It seemed like a long time before I heard him crying. You know how you panic when something like that happens.”
His father remembered there was a TV near the delivery room.
“The doctors kind of wanted to watch the moon landing. It was a big event. I have to admit I wanted to watch it myself,” he said. “I think they did something to try and keep my wife from dilating more.”
Whatever it was, it didn’t work.
His mother remembered, “I heard the nurses yell, ‘Doctor, this baby is coming now!’ “
So that’s how the hospital could pin exactly the minute that the baby was born.
After that, remembered his mother, nurses kept coming around with all kinds of names for the baby boy.
No way, said his mother.
“Another name they thought of was just absolutely insane. ‘Lunar Module,’ ” she remembered.
There must have been some Frank Zappa fans in the nursing staff. Two years earlier, Zappa had named his newborn daughter, “Moon Unit.”
His father also remembered another suggestion by the nurses: “Apollo.”
Northwest Hospital said there is no one around now who can remember the birth.
Growing up, Neil Armstrong Dial found himself sometimes daydreaming about a future in space.
His parents had bought a coffee-table book about space exploration, and Dial remembered picking it up often when he was 4 or 5 years old.
“I used to fantasize that one day I could be an astronaut. Maybe with my name, I’d have an inside track,” he said.
Life took him elsewhere and he became a lawyer.
But always, there were people asking him about the name, whether when looking at his driver’s license at the checkout stand, or in college when an instructor would see his full name.
He considered writing a book about what people told him they were doing at 1:17 p.m. on July 20, 1969.
“As it turns out, most were simply watching TV,” he said.
The astronaut Neil Armstrong has been notoriously private.
He stopped giving autographs because he didn’t want them resold.
He threatened to sue his barber in Cincinnati when he found out the man had sold locks of his hair for $3,000.
But with his namesake, the astronaut made sure to connect.
After Neil Armstrong Dial wrote his 2006 letter to the astronaut, he was contacted by an assistant to the astronaut.
Sometimes the astronaut went through Seattle, and perhaps would contact him, Dial was told.
More than a year passed.
Then sometime in late August or early September of 2007, Dial got a call at his downtown Seattle office.
“Do you have a little time? I’m at the Washington Athletic Club. It looks like it’s pretty close to where you are,” said the voice at the other end of line. It was the astronaut, in Seattle for a Navy reunion.
They met in the lobby for about 15 minutes.
“He didn’t seem to be in a hurry. He was asking all the questions, about me and my family,” remembered Dial. “It was almost an intimate meeting.”
He thought about asking Armstrong some “big questions,” like what was it like on the moon?
“I didn’t want to be clichéd. He’s had that question 1,000 times,” said Dial.
Dial had borrowed a digital camera from someone at his office. A couple of quick pictures were taken.
Then, about all that Dial could tell the astronaut was, “You know, Mr. Armstrong, this was really cool of you to do this.”
Dial remembered how Armstrong reacted.
“He just smiled.”
Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or firstname.lastname@example.org