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‘Living with honor’ in the shadow of his hero
By Clay Eals
Where were you and what were you doing when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon?
For many, the moment is etched deeply in memory.
My own recollection of July 20, 1969, is indelible. On the eve of my 18th birthday, my girlfriend took us to see “Oliver!” at the Magnolia Theater (now razed), but the auditorium was empty. Instead, we all crowded together in the lobby, craning our necks to peer at Armstrong’s “giant leap,” broadcast on a tiny black-and-white TV set perched on a chair next to the popcorn counter.
An Auburn attorney also knows where he was that day but has no memory of it. The very minute the lunar module Eagle touched the moon, he emerged on Earth, feet first, from his mother’s womb.
His birth, at Northwest Hospital near Northgate, became a media sensation because of his given name. Among many options, his parents considered Buzz, for Armstrong’s fellow astronaut Aldrin, and Apollo, for the space program. What stuck was the ultimate personal salute: Neil Armstrong Dial.
Turning 50 this month, Dial enjoys pondering how a quirk of timing gave him a guiding shadow he has always embraced.
While growing up in Richmond Beach, in seventh grade he gravitated to wrestling, which, he reflects, “taught me a lot about discipline and hard work.” Inspired by his namesake, he became an Eagle Scout and toyed with entering flight school to become an astronaut. Instead, he was drawn to the law. A husband and father of three, he works in the Tacoma firm founded by Ed Eisenhower, older brother of former president Dwight.
Wrestling remains a touchstone. He is head coach for about 20 wrestlers at Thomas Jefferson High School in Federal Way, where he advises against “showboating or doing things in a way that would make you more important than the team. That’s kind of how I am. Doing things right and living with honor have been important to me.”
A dozen years ago, Dial encountered those qualities first-hand when Armstrong, passing through Seattle, met with him for 15 minutes at the Washington Athletic Club. Dial found him humble, unassuming. “He really didn’t want to talk about himself. He wanted to know about me.”
Five years later, Armstrong died. Today, Dial, with gentle lawyerly humor, perceives in his hero some universality amid the uniqueness:
“He had an opportunity that came to him. It could have been many people in the program, and it fell that way for him. In some respects, that’s how it’s worked out for me. Anybody could have been born at that moment. It’s nothing I did. I don’t even remember the event, so everything I could tell you is hearsay.”
To see Jean Sherrard’s 360-degree video of the “now” prospect and compare it with the “then” photos, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!
Below is a 14-minute interview of Neal Armstrong Dial from July 9, 2019, in which he reflects on how he was given his name, meeting his famous namesake and how the Neil Armstrong legacy has affected his life. To see the video, click the photo or here.
Below are two photos and, in chronological order, four clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) that among many others were helpful in the preparation of this column.