Look­ing to he­roes in times of trou­ble

John Glenn em­bod­ied the val­ues that made Amer­ica great

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Robert L. Dilen­schnei­der Robert L. Dilen­schnei­der is pres­i­dent of the Dilen­schnei­der Group.

John Glenn is gone. So are Ad­lai Steven­son, Dwight Eisenhower, Ron­ald Rea­gan, Daniel Pa­trick Moyni­han and others of a past era of great­ness in Amer­ica. These peo­ple were he­roes and lead­ers who cap­tured the hearts and minds of their fel­low Amer­i­cans be­cause of their courage, de­cency and self­less pa­tri­o­tism. They rep­re­sented the val­ues that our coun­try should re­flect.

But the voices of ci­vil­ity are quickly fad­ing. Where to­day are the men and women of in­tegrity and ci­vil­ity who can serve as pos­i­tive role mod­els for the young Amer­i­cans im­mersed in a cul­ture dom­i­nated by celebrity wor­ship, in­ci­vil­ity and par­ti­san­ship?

What we lost in John Glenn, who died last week at the age of 95, was a man who ded­i­cated his life to serv­ing his coun­try. He was a Ma­rine Corps pi­lot dur­ing World War II, fly­ing 59 com­bat mis­sions, and then again dur­ing the Korean War when he flew 90 mis­sions. Af­ter the war years he was a test pi­lot and then one of the na­tion’s first as­tro­nauts — a mis­sion, let us re­mem­ber, as po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous as fly­ing in com­bat. In Fe­bru­ary 1962 he thrilled the world by be­com­ing the first Amer­i­can to or­bit the Earth. And he went on to serve for 24 years as a re­spected U.S. se­na­tor.

All these achieve­ments have earned Mr. Glenn a per­ma­nent place in the history books. And yet in my mind, it is just as im­por­tant that he al­ways re­mained a per­son of dig­nity, hon­esty and hu­mil­ity. He never let the pub­lic ac­claim go to his head. True to his Ohio roots, he al­ways kept his feet on the ground. That, ev­ery bit as much as his hero­ism in space, is what makes him a role model for our troubled times.

Some pun­dits think it was these very qual­i­ties that sank Mr. Glenn’s can­di­dacy for the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion for pres­i­dent in 1984 — that he was just too de­cent for the sharp-el­bowed world of pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics. It’s true that he hated beg­ging con­trib­u­tors for money and that he re­fused to make prom­ises that couldn’t be kept. But isn’t there some­thing ter­ri­bly wrong with a sys­tem in which peo­ple like that don’t have a chance at the White House?

Mr. Glenn’s best-re­mem­bered quote de­scribes what was go­ing through his mind as he sat in his space cap­sule wait­ing for blastoff (some au­thor­i­ties ques­tion whether he ac­tu­ally said this, but I’m con­vinced he did): “I felt ex­actly how you would feel if you were get­ting ready to launch and knew you were sit­ting on top of 2 mil­lion parts — all built by the low­est bid­der on a gov­ern­ment con­tract.”

Those words cap­ture both his cool­ness un­der stress and his great sense of hu­mor. But there’s some­thing else John Glenn said that may be even more im­por­tant to re­mem­ber: “If there is one thing I’ve learned in my years on this planet, it’s that the hap­pi­est and most ful­filled peo­ple are those who de­voted them­selves to some­thing big­ger and more pro­found than merely their own self-in­ter­est.”

Let me add to that piece of wis­dom a quote from an­other Amer­i­can hero, Dwight Eisenhower, who led the United States and its al­lies to vic­tory in Europe in World War II and then served two dis­tin­guished terms as pres­i­dent: “This world of ours ... must avoid be­com­ing a com­mu­nity of dread­ful fear and hate, and be, in­stead, a proud con­fed­er­a­tion of mu­tual trust and re­spect.”

Some­how we as a na­tion have got­ten away from those es­sen­tial val­ues. We seem to be headed down the path of par­ti­san war­fare, fake news sto­ries and post-fac­tual pol­i­tics. It is time for Amer­i­cans at all lev­els to stand up and over­come the nas­ti­ness that has marked our na­tional dia­logue in re­cent years. We can be­gin by look­ing to the he­roes of our past — and em­brac­ing once again the val­ues that they up­held and that have made Amer­ica great.


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