About John Glenn
Born John Herschel Glenn, Jr., in Cambridge, OH on July 18, 1921, he was the son of John Glenn, Sr., and his wife, Teresa. The family later moved to New Concord, OH, where Glenn received his primary and secondary education before attending Muskingum College, where he received his private pilot's license as part of a physics course. The attack on Pearl Harbor spurred Glenn to leave school and enlist as a Navy aviation cadet. Following advanced training, he was reassigned to the Marine Corps, which sent him on 59 combat missions over the South Pacific. After the war, Glenn flew patrol missions over North China before returning to the United States to serve as a flight instructor at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi in Texas. He then attended the Amphibious Warfare School, which led to 63 combat missions during the Korean War. For a period of time, his wingman was famed Boston Red Sox left fielder Ted Williams. Glenn later flew 27 missions in a second Korean combat tour as part of an interservice exchange program with the Air Force which saw him shoot down three MiG-15 fighters in the final three days of the war.
Following his service in Korea, Glenn attended Test Pilot School at the Naval Air Test Center in Patuxent River, MD. He was subsequently assigned to the Fighter Design Branch of the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics in 1956, serving as a project officer on a number of aircraft, including the Vought F-8 Crusader jet, with which he flew the first supersonic transcontinental flight in 1957. Glenn set a transcontinental speed record on the flight, traveling from Los Angeles to New York in three hours and 23 minutes. Two years later, Glenn was assigned to NASA, where he was selected as one of the original Mercury Seven astronauts. He served as backup pilot in 1961 for Alan Shepherd on Mercury-Redstone 3, the first spaceflight to carry a human in United States history, and then for Virgil "Gus" Grissom on the mission's immediate follow-up, Mercury-Redstone 4, that same year. Glenn's own landmark flight came a year later on Feb. 20, 1962 with the Mercury-Redstone 6 mission, which carried him aboard the spacecraft Friendship 7 to circle the Earth three times before its safe return. As the first American to orbit the planet, Glenn became a national hero, receiving among other accolades the NASA Distinguished Service Medal from his close friend, President John F. Kennedy, in 1962. He contributed to the development of future spacecraft, including cockpit layout and control functioning in early designs for the Apollo Project, before retiring from NASA in 1964.
Glenn entered the political arena that same year at the behest of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who suggested that he run against Ohio Democratic incumbent Stephen M. Young for the state senate seat. After announcing his intention to enter the race, Glenn was forced to withdraw after suffering a concussion. He retired from the Marine Corps the following year to begin his career as an executive for Royal Crown Cola, but returned to politics in 1970 to face off against Democrat Howard Metzenbaum for the Ohio Senate seat. Though he was narrowly defeated in the primary, Glenn took on Metzenbaum again in the 1974 race, defeating him and Republican candidate Ralph Perk to launch his lengthy tenure in the Senate. Two years later, Glenn lost his bid for the 1976 Democratic vice presidential nomination to Walter Mondale, but retained his Senate seat in the 1980 election against challenger Jim Betts.
After serving as chief author of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978, Glenn once again ran for higher office, this time as the Democratic candidate for president in the 1984 election. The campaign coincided with the release of "The Right Stuff" (1983), director Philip Kaufman's film version of Tom Wolfe's novel about the Mercury space program. Initially concerned that Ed Harris' portrayal of him would come across as priggish, Glenn distanced himself from the picture, but after reviewers began praising the depiction as heroic, he emphasized the film in the press. Unfortunately, the popularity of "The Right Stuff" did not aid Glenn's bid for the White House, as Mondale not only defeated him a second time, but left him with a $3 million campaign debt that lingered for the next two decades before its reprieve by the Federal Election Commission.
After retaining his Senate seat in 1986, Glenn faced serious opposition in the 1992 election following his association with the Keating Five scandal, in which he and four other senators, including John McCain, were accused of blocking a regulatory investigation by the Federal Home Loan Bank Board into Lincoln Savings and Loan Association, which had gone bankrupt in 1989, wiping out the savings of some 23,000 bondholders. All five senators subsequently received sizable campaign contributions from Lincoln Savings chairman Charles Keating, who eventually served four and a half years in prison for his involvement in the company's collapse. The Senate Ethic Committee eventually cleared Glenn of all charges, though his connection to the scandal left his previously spotless reputation somewhat tarnished. He managed to eke out a final win for his Senate seat in a bitter 1992 campaign against Ohio Lieutenant Governor Mike DeWine, which marked the last time a Democrat would win a statewide race in the state until 2006.
In 1998, Glenn declined to wage another campaign for his Senate seat, which was eventually claimed by Governor George Voinovich. His retirement was soon followed by word that he would return to space on Space Shuttle Discovery's STS-95 mission, which would focus in part on the effect of space travel on the human body, with Glenn serving as a test subject for experiments regarding weightlessness and other aspects of space flight. The shuttle departed for its mission on Oct. 29, 1998 before returning safely nine days later. Glenn's participation in the flight made him the oldest person to date to go into space, as well as the 10th person in history outside of sports team members to receive multiple ticker-tape parades. In the years that followed his historic second flight, Glenn's storied career was the subject of numerous awards and tributes, including the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service, the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. Countless scientific research facilities, highways and schools were also named in his honor.
By Paul Gaita