Thousands gather to mourn loss of Glenn
columbus, ohio» The nation’s vice president and a retired Marine Corps general were among the dignitaries, family members and other mourners who choked up Saturday during a memorial tribute to the late space hero John Glenn.
Roughly 2,500 people gathered at Mershon Auditorium on the Ohio State University campus for “a celebration of life” for the former fighter pilot, history-making astronaut and longtime Democratic U.S. senator from small-town Ohio. He was remembered not only for bravery, but for his thoughtful consideration for others, his integrity and his patriotic optimism.
“I think John defined what it meant to be an American, what we were about, just by how we acted,” said Vice President Joe Biden, a former colleague of Glenn’s in the U.S. Senate. “It was always about the promise. We were a country of possibility, opportunity, always a belief in tomorrow.”
Retired USMC Gen. John Dailey said Glenn was “never in it for himself,” but always acted for the nation’s greater good. Like many others, he recalled Glenn’s humility and basic kindness.
“We had John for 95 great years and it still wasn’t enough,” Dailey said.
Glenn died Dec. 8 at age 95. He was the first American to orbit Earth in 1962, and then in 1998 became the oldest person in space at 77.
Thousands of people, including Democratic U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, visited the Ohio Statehouse on Friday as Glenn lay in honor. A solemn funeral procession through the center of the capital city carried his casket past more mourners willing to withstand cold and ice.
Ethel Kennedy, widow of close Glenn ally Robert F. Kennedy, and their son Robert F. Kennedy Jr., were among the mourners present, along with Ohio political leaders including Gov. John Kasich and former Govs. Ted Strickland and Richard Celeste.
The service was preceded by recordings of hymns, arias and popular songs. Some — including Nat King Cole’s “Smile” and Susan Boyle’s version of “Impossible Dream” — nodded to Glenn’s trademark optimism. Others, including “You Are My Sunshine,” “Moon River” and Shirley Jones singing “Goodnight, My Someone,” recalled Glenn’s long love affair with wife, Annie, who survives him.
Their marriage was cited frequently as a source of Glenn’s strength and an inspiration to those who have known and watched the couple for 73 years.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a fellow Democrat who first met Glenn when he was a teenage Eagle Scout, called Glenn “an FDR Democrat” who believed in the power of government and the importance of public service — through his military and space career and his tenure in the Senate.
“He was a workhorse, never a showhorse,” Brown said. “He labored over the details of nonproliferation and environmental cleanup of nuclear disposal sites, grunt work to some, but John was content to spend his time not on collecting instant headlines but achieving lasting results that would leave the world better than he had found it.”
Brown’s wife, journalist Connie Schultz, recalled his tenderness when their grandson was curious about how astronauts urinate in space. She saw it as example for the nation.
“If American icon John Glenn could take the time to treat a child with such respect, surely we can find the time to listen to one another,” she said.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden Jr. said the U.S. space program remains indebted to Glenn.
“It was courage, grace and humility John displayed throughout his life that lifted him above the stars,” Bolden said. “As the current head of NASA, I can say unequivocally that we are standing on John Glenn’s shoulders as we pursue a human journey to Mars, a journey that would not be possible without his bravery and selfless dedication.”
Daughter Lyn said Glenn refused a deal worth as much as $5 million to have his photo placed on a Wheaties box because he saw it as making money from government service. She ended a touching recollection with a simple farewell, “Godspeed, Dad.”
The casket of John Glenn is carried out of the Ohio Statehouse by Marines during his funeral procession Saturday in Columbus. The famed astronaut died Dec. 8 at age 95. John Minchillo, The Associated Press
From left, Annie Glenn, widow of former senator and astronaut John Glenn, Glenn’s daughter Lyn, and Pock Otis hold hands during Saturday’s services for Glenn. Bill Ingalls, NASA