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Astronauts attend Armstrong service

Neil Armstrong never capitalised on his celebrity and just wanted to be part of a team - yet ended up making history and becoming an American hero, fellow astronauts said as mourners gathered to celebrate the life of the first man to walk on the moon.

Former astronauts, political and business leaders, family and friends gathered in suburban Cincinnati at a private club for a closed service for Armstrong.

"America has truly lost a legend," said fellow Apollo astronaut Eugene Cernan, who said Armstrong was a hero who "came from the culture of our country," growing up on a western Ohio farm, flying combat missions, and then joining the space program.

A programme stated that the service included a Navy ceremonial guard, and comments by Armstrong's two sons and Sen Rob Portman of Ohio. A flyover by Navy fighter planes was planned at the end of the service, in tribute to Armstrong's Navy pilot service that included combat missions in Korea.

Armstrong died last Saturday at age 82. Family spokeswoman Allison Ryan said there would be a national memorial service in Washington September 12.

No guest list for Friday's memorial was released, but among some 10 former astronauts attending were space pioneer John Glenn and Armstrong's fellow Apollo astronauts Cernan, James Lovell and William Anders.

Earlier Cernan and Lovell spoke at a Cincinnati hospital to help launch a children's health fund in Armstrong's memory.

Cernan and Lovell recounted visiting US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan with Armstrong, saying he always had an inspirational impact when meeting troops, schoolchildren and other admirers around the world.

Relatives described Armstrong, who largely shunned publicity after his moon mission, as "a reluctant American hero."

After his space career, he returned to Ohio, teaching aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati and generally avoiding public view for most of the rest of his life.

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