An American Hero
Glenn served his country well in a number of ways. He left college to join the service after Pearl Harbor, eventually serving in the Navy and then the Marines. He served in the Korean War and later as a test pilot and as an astronaut.
As a Marine Corps pilot, he broke the transcontinental flight speed record. In 1962, he became the first American to orbit the Earth. In 1998, at age 77, he became the oldest man in space as part of the crew of the shuttle Discovery.
In politics, Glenn represented Ohio in the U.S. Senate for 25 years. During that period, he ran for the Democratic presidential nomination and was often considered for a place on the ticket as vice president.
The Right Stuff
But of all his accomplishments, one scene about his life stands out for me. In the movie The Right Stuff (1983) about the original Mercury 7 astronauts, Ed Harris plays Glenn as a somewhat moralizing goody two shoes, who still comes across as admirable.
One scene in the film centers on events from January 27, 1962 after Glenn’s flight is postponed due to weather conditions. Vice-President Lyndon Johnson and the press are outside Glenn’s house wanting to talk to Glenn’s wife, Annie. Annie, upset and not wanting to meet with the press or the vice president, talks to Glenn on the phone.
In the scene, Glenn is aware of the political and media pressure on the space program. And he is pressured to tell his wife to talk to the vice president. But instead, he backs his wife “100%.” The other astronauts also come off well in the scene, putting aside any diffenences to back up Glenn.
The incident and Glenn’s response is a true story, even if a bit stylized with a humorous take on LBJ for the big screen. Johnson and the media were pressuring Annie, and Glenn backed up his wife all the way.
Glenn later explained, “She said she was tired, she had a headache, and she just wasn’t going to allow all those people in her house … I told her whatever she wanted to do, I would back her up 100 percent.”
There would be a few more delays due to a fuel leak and weather problems. But of course, Glenn did get off the ground on February 20, 1962 in Friendship 7, becoming the first American to orbit the earth. But he was already a hero to those who knew him.
Godspeed John Glenn.
(Some related Chimesfreedom posts.)