In John Glenn’s passing, America lost a true hero

In John Glenn’s passing, America lost a true hero

John Glenn was the face of the space race in the early 60s, as well as a war hero and former senator. PHOTO:

In today’s world, the term hero is thrown out as often as a fast-food wrapper.  Many times the word is used correctly, but often the designation is incorrectly applied.

The nation lost a true hero in the passing this week of John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth.  Glenn, aged 40 at the time, climbed into a tiny Friendship 7 space capsule, sitting atop tons of explosives and allowed NASA to hurl his body into the vacuum of space.

True, the Russians had already sent two of their cosmonauts on the same journey and returned them safely, but, if you remember, we weren’t exactly exchanging information freely with the Russian space agency and pretty much everything we did was done differently.   So, the outcome was far from predetermined.

I was small at the time, but I remember the importance of the country’s space program to the nation’s citizens.  School was suspended whenever a rocket carrying one of our astronauts lifted off from Cape Canaveral, and all students, teachers and school officials stopped what they were doing to watch the coverage on all television networks.

At that point in the early 60s, the American space program had fallen behind the Russians, and American technology and advancements were considered a national source of pride.  There was actually a “Space Race” and everyday Americans, who didn’t know anything about space travel, along with many who questioned the wisdom of investing in space travel, were rooting for the country to step up the game, if for no other reason, to beat the Russians.

Even President John Kennedy later vowed to place a man on the moon by the end of the decade, probably intending to tap the source of national pride as much as anything else.  The thousands of workers and scientists that put together the plan to orbit the Earth are the real heroes, but Glenn was the face of that crowd, the one man that told everyone the US had caught the Russians and intended to pull ahead.

But Glenn was much more.  After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Glenn became a fighter pilot and flew 59 combat missions during World War II, and earned two Distinguished Flying Cross medals as well as other commendations.  He flew another 90 missions in the Korean War and later became a test pilot for the military.

Glenn also served his country and the citizens of Ohio for 24 years as a Senator, and in 1998, volunteered to be a human test subject, returning to space at the age of 77, to test the physiological effects of weightlessness on aging humans.  On that occasion he said in an interview he wanted to show the world that the lives of older citizens were not controlled by a calendar.

Many more honors and accolades followed, but none overshadowed the achievement of that short ride into orbit that made the whole country take notice.

John Glenn passed away on December 8, 2016, and returned to the heavens for one final time.

And America lost a true hero.

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