“I’m not interested in my legacy, I’m more interested in living.”
“If there is one thing I’ve learned in my years on this planet, it’s that the happiest and most fulfilled people I’ve known are those who devoted themselves to something bigger and more profound than merely their own self-interest.”
“As I hurtled through space, one thought kept crossing my mind — every part of this rocket was supplied by the lowest bidder.”
– JOHN HERSCHEL GLENN, JR.
I think it is possible that John Glenn was among the most highly regarded and respected men of our time. So many people have expressed sadness at his passing, and I have yet to read a single, critical word, though in his political career there were surely many who disagreed with his views.
My first memory of John Glenn happened when I was in fifth grade. The year was 1962, and Mr. Glenn was about to lift off for his orbit around the earth. Though science has never been either my strong suit or my passion, I have always been enthralled by space exploration, ever since watching that lift-off. Two years later, my father spent an evening in a hotel bar with the original seven Mercury astronauts, including Glenn, and received autographed pictures from each. I think that may have been the highlight of his life, as he mentioned it often and those pictures always had a place of honour in his office!
John Glenn is best known for being the first U.S. astronaut to orbit the earth, but Glenn crammed more into 95 years of life than any other 10 men combined. I will keep the detail short, as you can find that anywhere on the internet, but a few of his accomplishments must be noted here. He was a Marine pilot during World War II, flying some 59 missions in the South Pacific, where one of his wingmen was baseball legend Ted Williams. He then served in the Korean war, he was recruited by NASA, who selected him to become one of the Mercury 7 astronauts, despite the fact that he was almost over the maximum age limit of 40. In 1962, he flew the now historic flight of Mercury-Atlas 6, orbiting the earth three times before safely splashing down in the Atlantic despite problems with a heat shield that had come loose.
Glenn did not return to space during the rest of the Mercury project, and left Nasa in 1964. Some have speculated that President Kennedy quietly ordered NASA to ground Glenn, as he was seen as a national hero and it would demoralize the nation were he to be injured or killed in the still-developing space program. Glenn retired in 1964 in hopes of running for a seat as the U.S. Senator from Ohio, but it would be ten years, 1974, before he achieved that goal.
In 1965, Glenn entered the world of business, accepting an executive position with Royal Crown (RC) Cola, where he served as Vice-President, then President until 1970 when he made another Senate bid but lost. He maintained close ties with the Kennedy family and was with Robert (Bobby) Kennedy when he was assassinated in 1968. Finally in 1974 he won a seat to the United States Senate where he served until January, 1999 after electing not to run for a fifth term.
In the late 1990s, NASA planned a mission that would test the effects of space travel on the elderly, and Glenn, then age 77, was chosen for the mission. He flew a 9-day mission aboard space shuttle Discovery, and was welcomed home with his 2nd ticker-tape parade!
In 2014, Glenn had successful open-heart surgery, and at the end of November 2016, he was hospitalized at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio, where he died on December 8th.
John Glenn received numerous awards and honours during his lifetime, including:
- Congressional Gold Medal for Distinguished Astronauts along with Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins – November 2011
- Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House – May 2012
- Mobile Landing Platform (MLP) John Glenn, a U.S. Navy ship named after Glenn – February 2014
- John Glenn College of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University, named after him – April 2015
- John Glenn Columbus International Airport, renamed for Glenn – June 2016
My brief tribute does not nearly capture the many ventures Mr. Glenn embarked upon, nor could it ever, but what impresses me the most is the indomitable spirit and the humanity of the man. Tom Brokaw, who was friends with Glenn, said of Glenn, “Throughout his life, it was never about him. He was so modest.” (Link to this video and others at end of post).
My hat is off to former astronaut, senator, and most of all honourable man, John H. Glenn, Jr. They just don’t make them like him anymore. As fellow-astronaut Scott Carpenter said to you back in 1962, I say again with a tear in my eye: “Godspeed”.
A few links: