Stepping out of the annals of space flight, Armstrong, 55, and 13 fellow astronauts returned to their Indiana alma mater for a heroes' homecoming weekend. Purdue has graduated 16 spacemen, more than any other college except the U.S. Naval Academy, allowing the state university to call itself the "Mother of Astronauts." Two of them, Gus Grissom and Roger Chaffee, died in the flames of Apollo I in 1967, but all the rest returned to thank Purdue for giving them a dose of the right stuff along with their engineering degrees. "It's a down-home type university," explained astronaut Don Williams, who flew 330 missions over Vietnam before piloting the space shuttle Discovery last April. "It's okay to be patriotic and love your country here."
Armstrong, who retired from NASA in 1971 and now is chairman of a computer systems company based in Virginia, shunned the press during his visit, but graciously signed dozens of autographs for star-struck students as he walked the campus. "He's had so much attention over the years and doesn't really understand it," explained fellow alum Eugene Cernan, the last man on the moon. "If you begin to think you're something you're not, you're looking in the wrong mirror. People try to typecast astronauts as heroic and superhuman. We're only human beings."
Over the porch of Purdue University's Phi Delta Theta fraternity house hung a huge banner that read, "Welcome Back Neil." A rumor was circulating among the brothers that the great man himself would stop by for a visit, but no one believed it. Suddenly brother Joe Kook shouted out, "Christ, look who's coming!" Unannounced, the man who had made one giant leap for mankind was strolling up the walk arm in arm with his wife, Janet. As the worshipful frat boys clustered round, Neil Armstrong, Class of '55, moseyed through his old stomping ground, noting with pleasure his signed moon-walk poster hanging in the living room, reminding the brothers he'd taken his Phi Delt pin with him to the moon. But mostly he just smiled and didn't say much. "He's a quiet dude," said brother Dave Garrett. "You don't expect to meet people from history books. You figure they're busy."