John Glenn died on Thursday at the age of 95. If anyone in my mind deserves the title “American hero,” it is him. One of NASA’s original seven Mercury astronauts, Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth on Feb. 20, 1962 aboard Friendship 7.
Before he was an astronaut, he was a Marine fighter pilot in WWII and the Korean War. Afterward, he served four terms as a senator for Ohio. I remember learning about him when he travelled on the shuttle orbiter Discovery in 1998, making him the oldest person to travel in space (at 77). To top it all, he dearly loved his high school sweetheart and wife of 73 years, Annie.
He seemed to encapsulate all that was noble and optimistic about twentieth-century America, all that we want America to be. As the New York Times put it:
“In just five hours on Feb. 20, 1962, Mr. Glenn joined a select roster of Americans whose feats have seized the country’s imagination and come to embody a moment in its history, figures like Lewis and Clark, the Wright brothers and Charles Lindbergh.
"To the America of the 1960s, Mr. Glenn was a clean-cut, good-natured, well-grounded Midwesterner, raised in Presbyterian rectitude, nurtured in patriotism and tested in war, who stepped forward to risk the unknown and succeeded spectacularly, lifting his country’s morale and restoring its self-confidence.”
Godspeed, John Glenn.