Saturday, July 7, 2012

Remember Him?

     At first glance, he did not seem a likely candidate to become a national hero. He was a college dropout. As a pilot during the Korean War, he got tagged with the nickname "Magnet Ass" for his dubious record of being able to draw enemy fire, as he routinely returned to base with his Panther jet riddled with flak holes along the fuselage. Can you guess who he is?

     When he was in his 40s, he decided to run for political office. In 1964 he quit his job and announced he would challenge the incumbent senator from Ohio in the Democratic primary. But before he even got started, he hit his head in the bathtub, suffered a concussion and injured his inner ear. He was unable to campaign, so he was forced to withdraw from the race -- without collecting a single vote.

The School of Public Affairs
     And yet this man was one of the greatest heroes of the 20th century. He was honored by President Kennedy for his achievements and he received a ticker tape parade up Broadway in New York City.

     He was born in central Ohio in 1921 -- in fact, his 91st birthday is coming up next week, on July 18 -- and he still lives in Ohio and is still actively involved in public life, particularly for his school of public affairs at Ohio State University.

     Reflecting back on his upbringing in small town Ohio, he said, "A boy could not have had a more idyllic early childhood than I did." His father was a plumber, and to help with the family budget his mother took in boarders from nearby Muskingum University. As a boy he was surrounded by college students, tutored by his mother, and developed an interest in science and in flying. After graduating from high school he entered Muskingum, the local Presbyterian college, where he studied science and earned college credit for taking flying lessons. He received his pilot's license in 1941.

     After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, he dropped out of Muskingum, enlisted in the Naval Aviation Cadet Program and became a Marine pilot. He flew 59 combat missions over the Pacific during World War II, winning several flying awards. After the war he became a flight instructor at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christie, Texas. Then when the Korean War started, he volunteered for combat duty and flew another 63 combat missions. Before his career was over, he would win six Distinguished Flying Cross medals, awarded for " heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight."

     After Korea, he became a test pilot, specializing in flying at high altitudes, and in 1957 he completed the first supersonic transcontinental flight -- flying from California to New York in 3 hours and 23 minutes.

     In 1959, despite the fact that he had no college degree, he was selected as one of the original group of seven astronauts. He was not the first man in space, nor the first American in space. But as the fifth man in space, aboard Friendship 7, on February 20, 1962, he was the first American to orbit the earth, circling the globe three times on a flight that lasted just shy of five hours. When he passed over Perth, Australia, residents famously flicked on all their lights, and the city became known as the City of Lights.

Astronaut John Glenn
     His sudden fame, and political potential, was noted by President Kennedy, and he became a friend to the Kennedy family. Six weeks after President Kennedy was assassinated, astronaut John Glenn resigned from NASA and at the suggestion of then Attorney General Robert Kennedy, he filed to run for the senate from his home state of Ohio.

     Glenn faltered on his first bid for public office, but he remained friends with the Kennedys. He was with Robert Kennedy in Los Angeles when he was assassinated in 1968. Two years later Glenn ran again for the senate from Ohio, losing the Democratic primary to businessman Howard Metzenbaum (who lost the general election to Robert Taft).

Senator John Glenn
     In 1974 Glenn again ran against Howard Metzenbaum in the senate primary, and this time he won, and also went on to beat his Republican challenger. He entered the U. S. Senate in 1975, where he took an active role in foreign relations and armed services, and was the chief author of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978.

     In 1976 John Glenn was considered for the vice presidential slot under Jimmy Carter, but his lackluster speaking style torpedoed his chances.  In 1984, Glenn ran for the presidential nomination, but he lost out early to eventual nominee Walter Mondale.

     In 1998, as a sitting senator at age 77, John Glenn again lifted off into space aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. Although some criticized his mission as a political junket, he was credited with providing valuable research on the effects of space travel on the elderly. When Discovery flew over Perth, Australia, residents again flashed their lights, as they had 36 years earlier.

     After 24 years in the U. S. Senate, Glenn decided not to run for re-election in 1998, and he retired back to his home state of Ohio. He served on the board of trustees of alma mater Muskingum University, and he helped found the John Glenn School of Public Affairs at Ohio State University, where he continues to encourage young people to participate in public service.


schmidleysscribblins, said...

Great disquise. I figured out who it was when you mentioned his age.

I met John Glenn when he toured Quantico right after his triuphal flight into space.

My first husband was a Marine, so I got to see John Glenn and other notable people involved in the space program up close and personal. Someday, I will post my photos of the return of Apollo 11 capsule and crew as wekk as the air craft carruer Hornet which picked the flight crew out of the Pacific in 1969 or 68, I forget the date without looking it up. Dianne

Stephen Hayes said...

A remarkable American and an inspiration to people everywhere.

Jono said...

I did better this time. I figured it out in the first sentence of the 2nd paragraph. He always seemed genuine and honorable in a way that so few politicians do. He is a hero in so many ways and decent human being to boot. I hope he is with us for a long time.

Dick Klade said...

Quite a guy. I've admired him for a long time, and appreciate the details you provided.

June said...

I am amazed. John Glenn has always seemed like a regular ol' guy in his manner, and now I see why.
Only in America, huh?

Arkansas Patti said...

I so enjoy these "guess who" posts and usually guess correctly before the end.
But always I learn facinating information about the subjects.
That man is a true American Hero.