In Memoriam: John Glenn (1921-2016)

The Man. The Explorer. The Hero.

How do you sum up a man’s time on earth when that man’s most memorable moments were outside of the planet’s atmosphere?

You don’t. You can’t.

You simply look back in awe at the legend of Ohio’s native son, John Glenn, and consider yourself grateful we were around at the same time as one of the world’s last true pioneers. The man was a legitimate Space Cowboy. When Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek opening line begins, “…to boldly go where no man has gone before…” they may as well have been talking about Glenn. At age 40, John Glenn climbed into the Friendship 7 capsule aboard an Atlas rocket on May 7th, 1962. After three passes, Glenn became the first human to orbit the Earth, reestablishing America as the leader in space exploration. Glenn became a symbol of hope and American resolve. Glenn embodied the quintessential dogged, fearless optimism that would inspire a nation through some of its more turbulent and formative eras.

Just prior to that fateful orbit Glenn was quoted regarding the shuttle’s multiple delays, “you fear the least what you know the most about.” Considering the unknown reaches he was set to embark upon that says something to level of the man’s courage.

Before space shuttles, his aviation was earthbound and during wartime. Enlisting in flight school after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Glenn flew fifty-nine combat missions during WWII and earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses. During the Korean War, Glenn flew in another 90 combat missions. This, all before piloting the F8U-1 Crusader and becoming the first man to pilot a transcontinental supersonic flight.

In 1974, Glenn was elected to the Senate and began an illustrious twenty-four year career in politics. A moderate in the Senate, Glenn served as a member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging. The commission saw Glenn leave Earth’s pull once more in 1998 when boarded the Discovery shuttle to experiment with the effects of aging while in space. At age 77, Glenn was the oldest man to enter space, but his fearlessness and thrill of exploration and adventure had not aged a day.

Recently, Glenn has earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. He has also been elected into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as well as having the Nasa Lewis Research center renamed to the John H. Glenn Research Center in his honor.

John Glenn is survived by his wife; his children, Carolyn and John; and grandsons; Daniel and Zach; and within the captivated hearts and mind of nation much in need of a symbol for enduring hope.

  • Content Strategist, novelist and prolific roustabout who drinks entirely too much coffee. You can find him on Twitter @therealadamdodd

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