A Tribute to John Glenn
By Jayne Bonilla / February 1, 2017

While most of us reach for the stars, gaze into space with wonder, and celebrate each complete revolution around the sun, there is one man who pioneered the skies, revealed the mysteries of space and beyond, and became the first human being to orbit the earth. With a fearlessness rarely seen, John Herschel Glenn, Jr. devoted his life to protecting his family, his country, and humanity at all costs. Born on July 18, 1921, John was taught that patriotism was a virtue, family mattered, and every person was a part of a divine plan. John's curiosity and bravery commandeered him to live among the stars during his illustrious career as a decorated pilot and astronaut.

Glenn's plans to become a doctor and marry high school sweetheart Annie Castor after college became derailed upon the news of the Pearl Harbor Invasion that blasted through the airwaves of his car radio on December 7, 1941. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy as an aviation cadet, transferred to the U.S. Marine Corps, and earned his airman's wings to become a pilot. Glenn now had two loves: Flying and Annie Castor.
When Glenn flew overseas, he knew what he was fighting for. According to the PBS Documentary John Glenn American Hero 1921-2016, his best friend, Monty Goodman, died during a combat mission over the Marshall Islands. "War making became very personal," he said. "After a while you don't get hardened to it, but you do realize that you cannot change fate and it is your duty, if you want to remain sane, to move on." Over the course of WWII and The Korean War, Glenn flew 149 combat missions, returning home a highly-decorated hero. During peacetime, he ascended the aviation ranks and became a test pilot.

Chosen as one of the seven Mercury's Astronauts, from a pool of 508 test pilots, Glenn stated he believed strongly "that each of us has a unique set of God-given characteristics, talents, and abilities. Our end of the partnership is to use those capabilities to the maximum and for a good purpose as we pass through this existence. The space program was one of those things that was going to require all I could give it," according to The Life of John Glenn - A Timeline on

In 1943 John and Annie tied the knot and began a lifelong journey together, one that lasted 73 years. Glenn's children and his wife were his world. He had a frank discussion with them prior to the launch in 1962 at Cape Canaveral. In John Glenn American Hero 1921-2016, he discussed the prospect that he may die and not to blame anyone or God. He was doing what he loved, something important for "them" and their country. If he were to die during his mission, it is the hand of fate, and nothing could be done about that.

In that same documentary, his wife reflected how moving 33 times during the course of their marriage paled in comparison to witnessing her husband leaving the earth's atmosphere to enter space. "I didn't think we should be going into God's heaven," Annie said. To ease her fear, before each mission Glenn would utter the same words: "I'm just going down to the corner store to get a pack of gum." "Don't be long," she would always respond.

A countdown for all the world to watch, "Godspeed, John Glenn" for all the world to hear, and the unforgettable launch for all the world to witness occurred on that historic day on February 20, 1962. Glenn was launched into space aboard Friendship 7 and became the first American to orbit Earth. Glenn's words hung in the air before becoming imprinted on our hearts: "That view is tremendous." While complications ensued inflight, Glenn remained calm and navigated three orbits, a dramatic but safe landing, and returned an instant national hero. Greeted by President John F. Kennedy, Glenn was awarded with NASA's Distinguished Service Medal. Glenn gave a speech to a special joint session of Congress and rode in four parades. Astronaut Glenn and The Friendship 7 Spaceflight gave the USA the morale boost it needed.

Glenn infused his passion for public service during his tenure as a U.S. Senator for four consecutive terms. In 1998, he seamlessly transitioned from his political career to the formation of the John Glenn Institute for Public Service and Public Policy at The Ohio State University. In 1998, Glenn fulfilled his life-long dream and returned to space. Though it had been 36 years since he last suited up, Glenn, the oldest human being to be launched into space, was selected as part of the crew aboard the space shuttle Discovery. "Glenn is the first and last mission to go into space and bookends an era of space exploration before the International Space Station is built," said John Pike, Director of The Federation of American Scientists.

Glenn exited Earth's gravitational pull at 77 years old for the final time. Upon his return from the nine-day mission, he handed Annie a pack of gum.

"We tend to think of heroes as being those who are well known," John wrote in John Glenn: A Memoir, "but America is made up of a whole nation of heroes who face problems that are very difficult, and their courage remains largely unsung. Millions of individuals are heroes in their own right. In my book, Annie is one of those heroes." Committed to preserving history while empowering generations to explore our future, Glenn told countless students, "The only limits are the ones we set for ourselves."

John Glenn peacefully passed away on December 8, 2016, at the age of 95. The husband, father, pilot, decorated war hero, astronaut, senator, and friend only had one limit. It was the sky.


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