John Glenn High School mourns the death of American hero, John H. Glenn Jr. Glenn was not only a hero to the nation, but a pillar of the values instilled in the people of the Village of New Concord. He was a progressive thinker and his imagination never dulled, even at the age of 95. His undying love and sacrifice for his country came to embody the American dream and proved that the sky was in no way a limitation. This small-town boy with dreams to fly demonstrated to all New Concordians that it is possible to achieve immense goals with determination and the will to make the improbable absolutely possible.
“Wanting to do something for the country was just natural, growing up in a place like New Concord,” Glenn once said.
Glenn was born in Cambridge, Ohio and was raised in New Concord. He graduated from New Concord High School and then enrolled at Muskingum College in 1939, where he earned a bachelor of science degree in engineering. While attending Muskingum, he took flying lessons on the side and shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, he signed up for the Naval Aviation cadet program and continued on to the Marine Corps to realize his dream of flying.
In his keynote address at Ohio State University’s commencement in 2009, Glenn said “We are more fulfilled when we are involved in something bigger than ourselves.”
During World War II, Glenn completed 59 combat missions in the Pacific. He again risked his life during the Korean War where he flew another 90 combat missions. In July 1957, Glenn set the transcontinental speed record, flying from Los Angeles to New York in three hours and twenty-three minutes. These military feats, however, were not enough for Glenn so in 1959, the newly promoted lieutenant colonel answered the call from NASA for test pilots to apply to be astronauts. Glenn was then chosen in April of that year to be one of the seven pilots selected to be part of Project Mercury.
The panic of the Cold War was spreading across America and Glenn craved to be the first American astronaut to fly. The participants of the program had to be no older than 39, no taller than five-feet eleven inches, and have had at least 1,500 hours of flying time. Because Glenn was so determined to be an astronaut, he applied weights to his head to compress his height down to the maximum five-feet eleven inches. Glenn fully dedicated himself to the program and was always reading so that he would be prepared for every situation. He finally got the chance to be the third American astronaut in space in 1961.
“You fear the least what you know the most about,” Glenn said at the time of his ground-breaking flight. He had full confidence in himself and NASA.
After 11 long delays due to weather and technical difficulties, on February 20, 1962 Glenn finally got to strap in aboard the tiny Friendship 7 Mercury capsule. At 9:47 a.m. local time, Glenn headed skyward in Cape Canaveral on an adventure of a lifetime. Five minutes after launching, Friendship 7 was in orbit and Glenn was seeing a view unlike any other. In five hours, Glenn made three orbits around the earth and restored a new faith in the United States. Though he faced a couple of emergencies, such as having to take manual control of the capsule after the automatic mechanism failed and his heat shield almost leaving him to be incinerated upon reentry, Glenn managed to step out of Friendship 7 with a smile from ear to ear.
In an interview years after his historic space flight, Glenn said, “I figure I'm the same person who grew up in New Concord, Ohio, and went off through the years to participate in a lot of events of importance.”
Once Glenn returned, he was deemed a national hero and celebrated from coast to coast. He had the opportunity to address a joint session of Congress, ride in a rare ticker tape parade in New York City, and made a visit to John F. Kennedy’s White House. After the celebration died down, Glenn continued to work at NASA, and continued to try to get a new flight assignment without any luck. It was revealed years later that President Kennedy felt that Glenn was too valuable of a hero to risk sending on another flight. Frustrated and tired of rejection, Glenn retired from NASA in 1964.
Glenn then retired from the Marine Corps in January 1965 and spent nearly a decade as a business executive. He became president of the Royal Crown Company, but that wasn't enough for him. Still feeling the space itch, Glenn tried to get a spot on one of the Apollo missions to the moon, but NASA turned him down. He then decided to pursue a career in something that would continue to better America.
“Don't tune out, cop out or drop out. Don't give in to complacency and cynicism. Don't ignore what is bad, but concentrate on building what is good. Don't take America and the values reflected in our form of government for granted. And never forget that in our democracy, the government is not ‘them’ -- it is ‘us,’” said Glenn when he announced his retirement from the U.S. Senate in 1997. His career as a Senator from Ohio was nearly spotless and he had many opportunities to showcase his progressive attitude.
Glenn’s parents were among a very few Democrats in New Concord and he developed an interest in politics from his high school civil teacher, Mr. Hartford Steele. He eventually put this interest in politics to the test and made several runs for U.S. Senate, gaining a seat in 1974. During his nearly 25 years in the Senate, Glenn was very influential as a member of the Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees, and his role as a federal advocate for science and health research. In 1976, Glenn was in the running for Vice President, but Jimmy Carter chose Senator Walter Mondale instead. Glenn even made a run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984, but he was unsuccessful. As his days as Senator wound down, his spot on the Senate Special Committee on Aging sparked an idea from Glenn that would get him back to space.
“We are placed here with certain talents and capabilities. It is up to each of us to use those talents and capabilities as best you can. If you do that, I think there is a power greater than any of us that will place the opportunities in our way, and if we use our talents properly, we will be living the kind of life we should live.” Although Glenn said this at a NASA news conference in 1959 to introduce the Mercury 7 astronauts, he proved himself true when he returned to space on October 29, 1998.
Glenn developed a detailed plan to serve as a medical guinea pig for medical experiments testing the physiological effects of aging. After careful review of his plan and passage of a rigorous NASA medical exam, Glenn was approved to be added to the crew of shuttle mission STS-95. At the age of 77, Glenn became the oldest human to go to space. Although his return to space drew criticism, Glenn was ecstatic to get one more chance to go to space. Glenn was aboard the shuttle Discovery and was in space for nine days. When he returned to Earth this time, Glenn was a little shakier but he was determined to walk off the shuttle by himself. He walked off himself and proved to Americans that age is but a number.
“We are saddened by the loss of Sen. John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth. A true American hero. Godspeed, John Glenn. Ad astra,” NASA tweeted upon Glenn’s death.
In his 95 years, Glenn received six Distinguished Flying Crosses, a wide variety of military commendations, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor in 1978, the Congressional Gold Medal for Distinguished Astronauts in 2011, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. Along with the local John Glenn High School, there are at least five other high schools, one middle school, and one elementary school named after him. He also has two highways, two boats, one park, NASA Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field, the John Glenn Columbus International Airport, Annie & John Glenn Avenue on Ohio State University’s campus, and the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at Ohio State named in his honor. And although Glenn gave up flying years ago, he always bragged about having a valid flying license. Glenn is survived by his loving wife of 73 years, Annie; two children, Carolyn and John; and two grandsons, Daniel and Zach. Like the hero he is, Glenn will now be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Glenn once said, “I've always believed that New Concord and Muskingum College are the center of the universe, because if you get your start here, you can go anywhere.”