ALL-AMER­I­CAN HERO

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Seth Boren­stein The As­so­ci­ated Press

wash­ing­ton» John Glenn, whose 1962 flight as the first U.S. as­tro­naut to or­bit the Earth made him an all-Amer­i­can hero and pro­pelled him to a long ca­reer in the U.S. Se­nate, died Thurs­day. The last sur­vivor of the orig­i­nal Mer­cury 7 as­tro­nauts was 95.

Glenn died at the James Can­cer Hospi­tal in Colum­bus, Ohio, where he was hos­pi­tal­ized for more than a week, said Hank Wil­son, com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor for the John Glenn Col­lege of Pub­lic Af­fairs at Ohio State.

John Her­schel Glenn Jr. had two ma­jor ca­reer paths that of­ten in­ter­sected: fly­ing and pol­i­tics, and he soared in both of them.

Be­fore he gained fame or­bit­ing the world, he was a fighter pi­lot in two wars, and as a test pi­lot, he set a transcon­ti­nen­tal speed record. He later served 24 years in the U.S. Se­nate from Ohio. A rare set­back was a failed 1984 run for the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion.

His long po­lit­i­cal ca­reer en­abled him to re­turn to space in the shut­tle Dis­cov­ery at age 77 in 1998, a cos­mic vic­tory lap that he rel­ished and turned into a teach­able mo­ment about grow­ing old. He holds the record for

the old­est per­son in space.

More than any­thing, Glenn was the ul­ti­mate and uniquely Amer­i­can space hero: a com­bat vet­eran with an easy smile, a strong mar­riage of 70 years and nerves of steel. Schools, a space cen­ter and the Colum­bus air­port were named af­ter him. As were chil­dren.

The Soviet Union leaped ahead in space ex­plo­ration by putting the Sputnik 1 satel­lite in or­bit in 1957 and by launch­ing the first man in space, cos­mo­naut Yuri Ga­garin, in a 108-minute or­bital flight on April 12, 1961. Af­ter two sub­or­bital flights by Alan Shep­ard Jr. and Gus Gris­som, it was up to Glenn to be the first Amer­i­can to or­bit Earth.

“God­speed, John Glenn,” fel­low as­tro­naut Scott Car­pen­ter ra­dioed just be­fore Glenn thun­dered off a Cape Canaveral launch pad, now a Na­tional His­toric Land­mark, to a place Amer­ica had never been. At the time of that Feb. 20, 1962, flight, Glenn was 40 years old.

With the all-busi­ness phrase, “Roger, the clock is op­er­at­ing. We’re un­der­way,” Glenn ra­dioed to Earth as he started his 4 hours, 55 min­utes and 23 sec­onds in space. Years later, he ex­plained he said that be­cause he didn’t feel like he had lifted off and it was the only way he knew he had launched.

Dur­ing the flight, Glenn ut­tered a phrase that he would re­peat fre­quently through­out life: “Zero G, and I feel fine.”

“It still seems so vivid to me,” Glenn said in a 2012 in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press on the 50th an­niver­sary of the flight. “I still can sort of pseudo feel some of those same sen­sa­tions I had back in those days dur­ing launch and all.”

Glenn said he was of­ten asked whether he was afraid, and he replied, “If you are talk­ing about fear that over­comes what you are sup­posed to do, no. You’ve trained very hard for those flights.”

Glenn’s ride in the cramped Friend­ship 7 capsule, how­ever, had its scary mo­ments. Sen­sors showed his heat shield was loose af­ter three or­bits, and Mis­sion Con­trol wor­ried he might burn up dur­ing re-en­try when tem­per­a­tures reached 3,000 de­grees. But the heat shield held.

Even be­fore then, Glenn flew in dan­ger­ous skies. He was a fighter pi­lot in World War II and Korea who flew low, got his plane rid­dled with bul­lets, flew with base­ball great Ted Wil­liams and earned ma­cho nick­names dur­ing 149 com­bat mis­sions. And as a test pi­lot he broke avi­a­tion records.

The green-eyed, tele­genic Ma­rine even won $25,000 on the game show “Name That Tune” with a 10-yearold part­ner. And that was be­fore April 6, 1959, when his life changed by be­ing se­lected as one of the Mer­cury 7 as­tro­nauts and in­stantly started at­tract­ing more than his share of the spot­light.

Glenn in later years re­galed crowds with sto­ries of NASA’s test­ing of would-be as­tro­nauts, from psy­cho­log­i­cal tests to sur­viv­ing spin­ning that pushed 16 times nor­mal grav­ity against his body, pop­ping blood ves­sels.

But it wasn’t nearly as bad as go­ing to Cape Canaveral to see the first un­manned rocket test.

“We’re watch­ing this thing go up and up and up ... and all at once it blew up right over us, and that was our in­tro­duc­tion to the At­las,” Glenn said in 2011. “We looked at each other and wanted to have a meet­ing with the en­gi­neers in the morn­ing.”

In 1959, Glenn wrote in Life mag­a­zine: “Space travel is at the fron­tier of my pro­fes­sion. It is go­ing to be ac­com­plished, and I want to be in on it. There is also an el­e­ment of sim­ple duty in­volved. I am con­vinced that I have some­thing to give this project.”

That sense of duty was in­stilled at an early age. Glenn was born July 18, 1921, in Cam­bridge, Ohio, and grew up in New Con­cord, Ohio, with the nick­name “Bud.” He joined the town band as a trum­peter at age 10 and ac­com­pa­nied his fa­ther one Me­mo­rial Day in an echo­ing ver­sion of taps. In his 1999 mem­oir, Glenn wrote, “That feel­ing sums up my child­hood. It formed my be­liefs and my sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity. Ev­ery­thing that came af­ter that just came nat­u­rally.”

His love of flight was life­long; John Glenn Sr. spoke of the many sum­mer evenings he ar­rived home to find his son run­ning around the yard with out­stretched arms, pre­tend­ing he was pi­lot­ing a plane. Last June, at a cer­e­mony re­nam­ing the Colum­bus air­port for him, Glenn re­called im­plor­ing his par­ents to take him to that air­port to look at planes when­ever they passed through the city: “It was some­thing I was fas­ci­nated with.” He pi­loted his own pri­vate plane un­til age 90.

Glenn’s goal of be­com­ing a com­mer­cial pi­lot was changed by World War II. He left Musk­ingum Col­lege to join the Naval Air Corps and, soon af­ter, the Marines.

He be­came a suc­cess­ful fighter pi­lot who ran 59 haz­ardous mis­sions, of­ten as a vol­un­teer or as the re­quested backup of as­signed pi­lots. A war later, in Korea, he earned the nick­name “MiG-Mad Ma­rine” and another he some­times para­phrased as “Old Mag­net Tail.”

Glenn’s pub­lic life be­gan when he broke the transcon­ti­nen­tal air­speed record, burst­ing from Los An­ge­les to New York City in three hours, 23 min­utes and 8 sec­onds. With his Cru­sader av­er­ag­ing 725 mph, the 1957 flight proved the jet could en­dure stress when pushed to max­i­mum speeds over long dis­tances.

In New York, he got a hero’s wel­come — his first tick­er­tape pa­rade. He got another af­ter his flight on Friend­ship 7.

JOHN GLENN • July 18, 1921-Dec. 8, 2016 In an era when fear of en­croach­ing Soviet in­flu­ence reached from the White House to Amer­ica’s kin­der­garten class­rooms, John Glenn, in his sil­ver as­tro­naut suit, placed the hopes of a na­tion on his shin­ing shoul­ders. NASA

John Glenn spent 24 years in the U.S. Se­nate, rep­re­sent­ing Ohio longer than any other se­na­tor in the state’s his­tory. Paul Ver­non, The As­so­ci­ated Press

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