Godspeed, John Glenn

John Glenn died today at 95. He comes from an era of heroes to little kids who grew up to blog for a living and also enjoyed looking up at the sky and wondering what it would be like to fly.

I wrote the following in a post over the summer and it seems, for many reasons, like a good time to take another look at it with some updates included.

Godspeed, John Glenn.


(Originally published July 18, 2016)

John Glenn is 95 years old today. He was, you may have heard, the first American to orbit the earth, willingly climbing atop a bomb to go try something no American had tried before.

No surprise. He didn’t see himself as a hero but said in an interview on PBS NewsHour a few years ago that it’d be OK with him if his story got more kids interested in science (video below).

“I see the things that built this country, education and basic research, I see those being equally important now to what they’ve ever been in the past, and the nations of the world that lead in those areas will be the nation that leads the world 50 or 75 years from now.”

The country was enamored with the original seven astronauts — the Mercury 7, they were called — who represented a new age of youthful possibility, the same idea that swept a young man into the presidency a year after the Mercury 7 were introduced.

And now, they’re all gone.

He flew 63 combat missions in Korea (his wingman was Ted Williams), and then was a test pilot for the Navy.

He won election to the U.S. Senate in 1974, was a candidate for vice president in 1976, authored the nuclear non-proliferation act of 1978 and then ran for president in 1984 (losing out to Walter Mondale), got caught up in the savings and loan scandal in 1992, became the oldest person in space when he flew in 1998 at age 77, and then retired from the Senate in 1999, $3 million in campaign debt.

He could’ve been picked for VP three other times — 1984, 1988, and 1992– and was passed over all three times.

This morning, CBS This Morning showed a focus group from Frank Luntz, the GOP operative, in which a person declared that he was stunned that the nation had gotten itself into a position this year in which the choice is between two people “so unqualified to lead” the nation.

That’s when I thought of John Glenn’s career and wondered whether the nation really knows what it takes to run the nation if it couldn’t let Glenn within a heartbeat of the presidency.

Glenn is now the oldest living person to have served in the U.S. Senate, and, of course, the oldest living former astronaut.

Former space shuttle astronaut Michael J. Massimino says Glenn embodied what the country wanted to be like.

He had a war record, looks, was a national hero, had experience, and was still married to his high school sweetheart.

By all accounts, he was the perfect candidate, and just what voters say they want. But voters fib. What they say they want isn’t what they’ll vote for.

  • Gary F

    And still married to his high school sweetheart. Best line in the whole story.

    • wjc

      Totally agree.

  • Anna

    Another of the heroes of the Greatest Generation passes into the history books and what a truly historical adventure it was!

    While space travel might seem old hat to today’s generation, it was wilder and beyond anything a child could dream and something to aspire to when this Baby Boomer was growing up.

    Aeronautical engineering was in its infancy and the go to major for college bound students across the U.S.

    Boeing and Lockheed were just beginning their decades long dominance of jet design and advanced airline travel.

    Ah, those were the days…..

    • The Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk in 1903.
      John Glenn orbitted the earth in a spaceship just 59 years later.

      Think about that.

      • Anna

        And you are one of those boomers who took to the skies.

        I hope you have many more years of flying ahead of you, Bob.

        The Wright Brothers and those that followed made us believe in ourselves and that nothing was impossible if we studied and worked hard enough.

        Now more than ever, kids today need those kinds of heroes.

        • Well, unfortunately, declining health has forced me to sell the plane. In fact, I was hoping to take tomorrow off to ferry it over to its new owner in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It’s been a month I’ve been trying to have one good weather day along the 475 mile trip . But thanks to lake-effect snow, my last flight will have to wait until at least next Thursday.

          • Anna

            I am so very sorry to hear that, Bob.

            When you mentioned a couple of weeks ago that your Meniere’s was taking its toll, I was hoping for your sake it was only a temporary setback.

            I will be pulling for you Bob and I’m sure all of your loyal followers on NewsCut will be as well.

            Godspeed and a safe flight to Grand Rapids, Bob

          • Rob

            What Anna said, Bob. I look forward to seeing your posts about the trip. And you aren’t giving up flying altogether, are you?

          • My FAA special issuance medical certificate runs out in April and there’s no way it would be renewed which is why I sold the plane. I may build another, smaller, plane that has fewer medical restrictions on it. But for now, yeah, I’ll be done flying as soon as I land in Grand Rapids.

          • Rob

            Building it in your basement, a la Gibbs on the NCIS TV show building boats in his basement? : )

          • I started in the garage actually. A lot of the parts were stored in a guest room . Only went inside when it got down around -20.

          • KTFoley

            So sorry to hear that, Bob. Building your plane was a lengthy journey in itself; no doubt many hoped as I did that the joy of flying it would be yours for even longer.

      • Mike Worcester

        And since that flight, 54 years later, we’ve been to the moon….and that’s it. :/

        The high hopes I had for my generation and seeing what is beyond our stratosphere has not gone very far, Godspeed indeed Mr. Glenn, I only hope we can carry forward what you began at some point during my lifetime.

      • Woody

        Peter Leschak had a line about what the ancients would think of the ISS blip crossing the night sky. He then corrected himself to ask what his grandparents would’ve thought.

        • Rob

          : )

      • Gordon near Two Harbors

        Yes, that is truly amazing. I remember thinking at my great-grandfather’s funeral in 1983 (he was born in 1894) that his lifespan had spanned from the pre-automobile days to those of the Space Shuttle. No generation in human history had experienced such radical, technological change.

  • Robert Moffitt

    I had better call my mom today. This news is going to make her sad.

  • Gordon near Two Harbors

    John Glenn was one of those truly rare individuals who could be considered a hero. Same with the rest of the Mercury Seven astronauts, now all gone. It is difficult to overstate the bravery of someone willing to ride into orbit on what was basically a modified inter-continental ballistic missile–a rocket known to explode on the launchpad, or fail soon after, with some frequency.

    As a very young lad growing up in Minneapolis my first memories are of the early Gemini missions, and I remember my mother crying when Apollo 1 burned up, killing three astronauts.

    In contrast with the agonizing, weekly death counts of American soldiers killed in Vietnam, political assassinations, and Civil Rights riots, there were the spectacular images of space flight, of successful new maneuvers and dockings, of spacewalks–all leading to the fulfillment of JFKs goal of landing a human being on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.

    John Glenn was of that truly unique generation–the Greatest Generation–where everything was possible, risk was confronted with courage, and the best days were always ahead. Yes, Godspeed, John Glenn. You lived a long, great life, and you will not be forgotten.

  • ec99

    Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
    And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
    Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
    Of sun-split clouds, –and done a hundred things
    You have not dreamed of –Wheeled and soared and swung
    High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
    I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
    My eager craft through footless halls of air…
    Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
    I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
    Where never lark or even eagle flew —
    And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
    The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
    Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

    • Rob

      I’ve always liked that poem. Although it does sound a little like oxygen deprivation…

      • ec99

        A friend of mine of some 50 years loves the poem. I’d recite it, and when I got to “dreamed of,” I’d switch to “A loop, a whirl, a vertical climb, and once again you know it’s time for Rocky and his friends.” Used to drive him nuts. 😉