In our cynical world the word “hero” sounds quaint. But former Senator, former Astronaut, former test and combat pilot John Glenn is—yes, in August 2012 he’s still living at age 91 with his wife Annie age 92—an American hero. John Glenn: A Memoir is his story.
Whether or not one agrees with John Glenn’s positions during his political career, his pioneering spirit, courage, patriotism, and willingness to serve or even sacrifice for his country demand respect. From relatively humble beginnings in a small town during the Great Depression John Glenn’s love for flying took him to the Marines and ultimately world acclaim as a space pioneer.
Glenn learned faith, so-called middle class values, a work ethic, and integrity, all forming his character, from his parents, friends, and teachers in the village of New Concord. Then, like many others in the Greatest Generation, he rose to the challenge and his metal was tested in the crucible of World War II. For Glenn this meant flying scores of missions as a fighter pilot in the South Pacific. Later, he flew scores more missions in the Korean War and shot down 3 MiGs in the process.
As a test pilot in 1957 he set a supersonic speed record for flying coast to coast, gaining his first taste of unsought fame. Then Glenn became one of the original 7 NASA astronauts, the men with the “right stuff,” and the first man to orbit the earth, February 20, 1962 in “Friendship 7,” in what became a galvanizing moment worldwide.
Colonel Glenn eventually resigned his military commission, earned a living by working several years in corporate leadership, and then pioneered again, at least personally, stepping into politics. He eventually served 24 years as United States Senator from the state of Ohio and was a serious consideration for Vice President in several presidential elections.
If this wasn’t enough, on October 29, 1998, Glenn returned to space at age 77 as a member of the crew for Space Shuttle “Discovery.” Critics called it a NASA publicity stunt, but for the agency, Glenn, and the scientists his flight was about studying the affects of space travel upon aging.
Throughout his life, Glenn has been sided by his childhood sweetheart and wife Annie. Her resolve and courage in struggling with stuttering and her mid-life development of better speech patterns via new physical therapies is a remarkable story in itself. Theirs has been a model romance and relationship.
John Glenn was born in Cambridge, Ohio and grew up in nearby New Concord. I grew up in Byesville, Ohio, four miles from Cambridge and about fifteen miles from New Concord. My grandparents knew and thought very highly of John Glenn’s parents and often went to church meetings with them. I remember meeting them when I was a boy. I also have the memory of annual trips to homecoming parades at Muskingum College in New Concord where Glenn and his wife attended school. By the time I got into postsecondary John Glenn High School in New Concord was one of our local rivals.
While I never met John Glenn I’ve known of him and his exploits since my youth and he served as Senator during what was my first twenty-four years of adult and married life. This was a time I followed national politics carefully, including Senator Glenn’s service. Because of all this I feel some connection to the man and have certainly appreciated his example of patriotic service, proactive outlook, and leadership.
In part because of my connections with Glenn’s hometown and family, in part because Glenn’s remarkable accomplishments, and in part because this memoir is well written and relatively fast-paced for an autobiography, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I’m going to recommend it immediately to my father, who grew up and still lives in the next county. Dad’s about ten years younger than the Senator but he’s close enough to be a contemporary and remember in personal terms much about Glenn’s story.
I highly recommend this book as “a good read,” as a book about “science,” and as a book about character and leadership.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012
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