John Glenn

If there is one thing I've learned in my years on this planet, it's that the happiest and most fulfilled people I've known are those who devoted themselves to something bigger and more profound than merely their own self interest."

John Glenn


In the Beginning ..... John Herschel Glenn, Jr., witnessed a lot of changes in the world during his lifetime. It's truly hard to imagine all of the changes that can happen in about one hundred years. You see, Glenn was born in Cambridge, Ohio, on July 18, 1921. If you lived back then, your home would not have had a toaster (wait three months, it was invented October 1921), television (1927, but not in homes till the 1950s and 60s), washing machine and dryer (1930s), room air conditioners (1931), microwave oven (1945), transister radio (1955), countertop microwave (1967), Nintendo (1983), laptop (the 1990s), smart phone (2003) and the list goes on and on and on. Of course, if you lived in a rural area, most likely you would not have had electricity back then either (the 1930s - 1950s) so none of these inventions would have mattered. And people, including John Glenn, survived without all of that.

Back in Cambridge, and then a little later in New Concord, Ohio, Glenn grew up with the nickname Bud. And, Bud loved a couple of things. He loved airplanes, real ones as well as making models of them. (The Wright brothers flew their airplane at Kitty Hawk in 1903.) Glenn turned eight the month that Port Columbus Airport opened in July of 1929. Whenever the family traveled from New Concord to the big city, the trip was not complete without a trip to the airport.

The other thing that Glenn fell in love with at an early age was Annie. The same year that his family moved to New Concord, Annie's family moved there as well. The families became friends and the kids literally shared a playpen. Through grade school crushes, to going steady in eighth grade, to playing together in the school band, Glenn said, “There’s never been a time in our lives when we didn’t know each other. Everything we’ve been through, we’ve been through together." Long before Beyonce sang about it (or was even born) Glenn knew he needed to put a ring on it. He married his childhood sweetheart, Anna Margaret Castor, on April 6, 1943, and kept that ring on her for over seventy years.

Both of the Glenns attended Muskingham College (now University) in New Concord. If life had gone according to plan, there was a good chance that they would have stayed in that college town for the rest of their lives. John most likely would have taken up the family business of plumbing with his dad. However, life doesn't always go according to plan. And, this was one of those times. As John drove to Annie's senior music recital, a radio announcement changed his life. It was Sunday, December 7, 1941.

Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

Fighter Pilot ..... A few days later, Glenn signed up to train as a fighter pilot in the military. It was a committment of service that lasted twenty-three years in the Marines. Glenn flew 59 combat missions in World War II, served as a combat instructor and then flew another 90 missions in the Korean War. In both of the wars, he earned a Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight. Glenn was never injured in combat but his plane was hit on occasion. One time, the plane had so many bullet holes that his fellow pilots named it the "flying doily". (If you don't know what a doily is, your grandmother is too young. Mine made lots of doilies. Do a Google search.)

Project Bullet ..... After his service in the Korean War, in 1954 Glenn attended the US Test Pilot School at NATC Patuxent River, Maryland. Now Major Glenn, with a reputation as an established pilot, continued to test the limits of flight. Project Bullet was the first transcontinental flight at supersonic speed. On July 16, 1957, Glenn set this record aboard an F8U-1 Crusader from Los Angeles to New York in 3 hours, 23 minutes and 8.4 seconds at an average speed of Mach 1.1. To accomplish this feat, it required two dangerous midair refuelings and when Glenn touched down in Brooklyn, he only had enough fuel in the tank to circle the airport one more time. Glenn truly deserved his fifth Distinguished Flying Cross for this mission.

The Project Bullet flight provided the first continuous transcontinental panoramic photograph of the United States. And, if you are ever able to see the footage, you would see New Concord, Ohio. Since Glenn set the flight path, he wanted to make sure his parents could hear the sonic boom as he flew into the history books. The flight also captured the attention of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the predecessor of NASA.

The Mercury 7 ..... More than 500 applicants signed up for the new space program, but in 1959, John Glenn was selected as one of the United States' first seven astronauts. He was the senior member of Mercury Seven by both age and rank. More than likely, he hoped to be the first American in space. Alan Shepard, who claimed that honor on May 5, 1961, flew a suborbital trip that lasted for fifteen minutes. Gus Grissom, on the second flight on July 21, 1961, flew a suborbital trip that lasted 15 minutes and 37 seconds. Perhaps it was worth the wait. On February 20, 1962, John Glenn, the third astronaut from the United States, became the first American to circle the planet. Inside his capsule, which his family named Friendship 7, he circled the planet three times on a five hour journey.

His military record was enough to make him a national hero. However, this trip into space made him a world-wide sensation. Even the Friendship 7 took an international tour of celebration to seventeen countries around the planet! After that trip, the "little space capsule that could" took its rightful place in Washington D.C.'s Smithsonian Institute next to the Wright Brothers' original airplane from Kitty Hawk and Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis.

Two years later, in 1964, Glenn retired from NASA. He wanted to return to space in other Mercury missions, and eventually join a lunar mission, but it hadn't happened. He didn't know it at the time, but President Kennedy made sure the national hero didn't return to space. There was just too much chance that a disaster could happen in the space program's infancy and nobody wanted to lose a national treasure like John Glenn. He might have thought his chances of returning to space were over, but sometimes life has surprises. NASA might have been finished with Glenn for the moment, but space and the universe had other plans in mind for a later date.

Back to O H I O . . ..... The Kennedys, both John F. and Bobby, thought that Glenn was a natural fit into politics. Glenn moved back to Ohio to pursue a position in the U.S. Senate representing his home state. The election didn't happen right away. Before his election to Congress in 1974, Glenn worked in the corporate world as a director for the Royal Crown Cola Company.

As one of Ohio's favorite sons, Glenn represented the state for 25 years. He was the first state senator elected four consecutive terms. Glenn believed that politics was his best avenue of public service after the space program. He credited Bobby Kennedy for teaching him that politics wasn't a dirty word, as some may think. He saw it as a calling and ministry.

. . . Infinity and Beyond! ..... Throughout his time in Congress, Glenn maintained close contact with NASA. He let it be known often that he regretted not going on future space missions. And, if ever there was an arguement for persistence, listen to the lessons learned in Glenn's life.

It took two years for Glenn to convince both NASA and the National Institute of Aging that it would be good to study the similarities between the physical effects of weightlessness and aging. Both caused loss of muscle, bone and blood density as well as disturbed sleep patterns, balance disorders and lessened cardiovascular strength. Since he already faced some of these symptoms due to the aging process, Glenn thought it would be good to gather information about the added effects of weightlessness on the elderly. Hopefully, perhaps, eventually, the mission could unlock secrets to slowing down the aging process.

In October 1998, a mere thirty-five years after his last mission, Senator John Glenn returned to space on the space shuttle Discovery with six other astronauts. Proving you're never to old to set another world record, at the age of 77, he became the oldest person to fly into space. The nine day mission was to study the affects of space and weightlessness on the elderly. Glenn was the perfect candidate for the job because NASA already had so much information on his physical health throughout his life.

He could not have come home any more famous than he already was, but he did return to his second ticker-tape parade in New York City. That's two more than most people ever receive.

The Ohio State University.... The wonderful quote at the beginning of this page was uttered on October 3, 1997 when Glenn announced he was donating his personal work, Senate papers and other artifacts to The Ohio State University. It was Glenn's desire to create a place that would continue to stimulate the minds of young people rather than simply place his donation in a museum to honor his accomplishments.

Upon his retirement from the US Sentate, the Senator from New Concord established the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University. With no plans to kick back and have it easy in retirement, Glenn served as an adjunct professor, volunteer lecturer and mentor to students at both OSU and Muskingum University.

Glenn died on December 8, 2016, at the age of 95. The dean of the John Glenn College of Public Affairs, Dr. Trevor Brown said, "The state fo Ohio, the nation and the world lost a hero. We at the GLenn College and The Ohio State University lost a friend. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve the goal of propelling humanity forward through education in his name. We are proud to carry on his legacy of public service by inspiring young people to serve the greater good and to shaping and molding the next gerneration of public leaders."

In memory.... John and Annie Glenn will be forever remembered as a part of American history. For those who may want to learn more about their experiences in the Depression and on the home front during World War II, their home in New Concord is an historic site and museum. John Glenn once said that he and his wife lived one third of US history. That part of their history can be viewed in their restored home on Main Street.

In June 2016, Glenn's experience with flying came full circle in a very special way. As a child, remember, the eight year old boy loved to have his parents bring him to Port Columbus Airport. As a 94 year old American hero, astronaut, Senator and community servant, the airport was renamed the John Glenn International Airport. He'd been honored by presidents and world leaders, portrayed in film and celebrated around the world. But, this honor truly befitted a life well spent in service to others. And fortunately, it happened while Glenn was still alive to celebrate.


A lot of resources were researched to compile this biography. However, the best source was an article from Columbus Monthly, August 1998, by Jeff Lyttle. If you want a full story with so much more wonderful detail, check it out.