John Herschel Glenn, Jr. was born in Cambridge, Ohio on July 18, 1921.His parents, John Herschel and Clara Sproat Glenn, moved the family to New Concord, Ohio when John was two years old. John’s father opened a plumbing business and built a home that doubled as a rooming house for students from nearby Muskingum College. John Jr. would write many years later of his childhood, “A boy could not have had a more idylic early childhood than I did.”
Surrounded by older students, encouraged by a father who liked to travel, and tutored by a devoted mother, John developed an early interest in science, a fascination with flying, and a sense of patriotism that would define his adult life. John graduated from New Concord High School and attended Muskingum College. John earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering. Muskingum College also awarded him an honorary Doctorate of Science in Engineering. John has received honorary degrees from nine colleges or universities.
In March of 1942, shortly after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, John enlisted in the Naval Aviation Cadet Program and became a Marine pilot. On April 6, 1943 John Glenn Jr. married his long-time love, Anna “Annie” Margaret Castor, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. H. W. Castor. John’s parents and Annie’s parents had both moved their families to New Concord around the same time. The parents became friends when John and Annie were toddlers. Whenever the families got together for dinners the two shared a playpen. By high school they were a serious couple. Annie still wears the $125.00 engagement ring John gave her in 1942. Together they have two children and two grandchildren.
John Glenn Jr. flew 59 combat missions in the South Pacific during World War II. When the Korean conflict began, Glenn asked for combat duty and flew 63 missions. Glenn flew a total of 149 missions in both wars. He has been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross six times. He holds the Air Medal with 18 clusters for his service. Glenn also holds the Navy Unit Commendation for service, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation, the Navy’s Astronaut Wings, the Marine Corps’ Astronaut Medal, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, and the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.
After Korea, Glenn attended Test Pilot School at the Naval Test center in Maryland. Upon graduation he was project officer on a number of aircraft. In July 1957, while project officer of the F8U Crusader, he set a transcontinental speed record from Los Angeles to New York, crossing the country in 3 hours and 23 minutes. This was the first transcontinental flight to average supersonic speed. “Project Bullet” secured Glenn’s reputation as one of the country’s top test pilots.
John Glenn’s experience and skill made him a logical candidate for the astronaut corps being formed in 1958. He volunteered without hesitation when NASA put out a call for pilots to participate in its suborbital and orbital program. Glenn was assigned to the NASA Space Task Group as a Project Mercury Astronaut at Langley Research Center in Virginia in April 1959. He was selected by NASA to be one of the first seven astronauts in the US space program. The Space Task Group was moved to Houston and became part of the NASA Manned Spacecraft Center in 1962. On February 20, 1962, atop an atlas rocket, John Glenn rode into space and piloted the Friendship 7 spacecraft. Launched from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, Glenn completed a successful three-orbit mission becoming the first American to orbit the earth. The mission reached a maximum altitude of approximately 162 miles with an orbital velocity of approximately 17, 500 miles per hour. Glenn’s Friendship 7 landed 800 miles southeast of Kennedy Space Center. Mission duration from launch to impact was 4 hours, 55 minutes, and 23 seconds.
John Glenn’s ride into space was a great technical accomplishment. It held even greater significance as a political accomplishment. The US space program had lagged behind the Soviet Union in the “Space Race”. All over the country Americans welcomed Glenn as a hero who had conquered the bounds of earth and given new wings to America’s spirit.
Following his historic space flight John Glenn continued to serve as an advisor to NASA until 1964. His interests increasingly turned to public affairs and he was encouraged by Bobby Kennedy to seek public office. So Glenn retired from the Marine Corps as a colonel and tried a run for the United States Senate. An accident forced him to leave the campaign early. After recovering from his accident, John Glenn joined the business world as vice president (then president) for Royal Crown Cola. Still interested in public service, he ran again for the Senate, losing in the 1970 primaries. Four years later he won easily his election to the Senate.
The Spaceman became the Statesman. Senator Glenn represented Ohio and took a leading role in weapons control and government affairs. He was the chief author of the 1978 Nonproliferation Act. Senator Glenn sat on the Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees and the Special Committee on Aging. He was a contender for the vice presidential nomination three times and ran in the primaries as a presidential candidate in 1984.
Senator Glenn announced his retirement in 1997. A year later, NASA invited him to rejoin the space program he helped to create as a member of the Space Shuttle Discovery Crew. He accepted and on October 29, 1998, became the oldest human to venture into space. The crew of the Discovery supported a variety of research payloads and investigations on space flight and the aging process. The nine-day mission was accomplished in 134 Earth orbits, traveling 3.6 million miles.
On his return from space John Glenn, Jr. took on a new role. He and his wife Annie founded the John Glenn Institute for Public Service at the Ohio State University. Through its programs they seek to improve the quality of public service and to encourage young people to pursue careers in government.
“We have an infinite amount to learn both from nature and from each other.” – John Glenn, Jr.