John Glenn left us before when he became the first American to orbit the earth in February 1962. He went around three times, as high as 160 miles up, traveling at 17,500 mph in a metal cone equipped with what now seems like terrifyingly primitive technology. Thirty six years later he went back into space as the oldest astronaut in history.
With his death Thursday at 95, Glenn has departed for good. But his spirit will remain a symbol of the American spirit. On his five-hour journey at the dawn of the Space Age he captured the nation’s imagination and showed how high a dream can reach when it’s powered by determination.
John Glenn, a son of Ohio, put the United States on the way to the moon, yet he was at the same time deeply grounded, modest and sincere. After his career as a Marine fighter pilot who flew combat missions in World War II and the Korean War and a pioneering astronaut, Glenn became a Democratic senator from Ohio.
Fame didn’t change him. He said years after his famous flight, “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. What got a lot of attention, I think, was the tenuous times we thought we were living in back in the Cold War. I don’t think it was about me.”
It wasn’t about him. It was about doing something larger than yourself. We could use that spirit now.
After Glenn arrived safely back on Earth, President Kennedy, referring to his Inaugural Address, said, “Months ago, I said that I hoped every American would serve his country. Today, Colonel Glenn served his. And we all express our thanks to him.”
And, upon his death, we do so again.