Blasting off to outer space may be something we joke about, but for John Glenn, it was the real thing. Born in Cambridge, Ohio, John Glenn grew up in nearby New Concord. Always interested in science, there he acquired the determination and desire to enter the military and eventually become part of NASA’s space team.
Recently, 93-year-old Glenn spoke in an interview setting conducted by award winning journalist, Charlie Rose, at the McCoy Center in New Albany. Inspired by Thomas Jefferson’s life-long adventure in learning, New Albany Community Center conducts The Jefferson Series, comprised of interviews with great thinkers of our time.
Prior to the actual interview, a short video was shown covering Glenn’s childhood and many of his major accomplishments. This provided opportunity for the audience to get to know John Glenn better. His interest in flying began when he was eight years old and his dad took him flying from a small airport near Cambridge. Glenn was hooked! He immediately went home and began building model airplanes.
When 93-year old Glenn came on stage, there was a standing ovation for this Ohio born, national hero. Throughout the evening, his recall of events of his life was phenomenal, as well as his ability to think about the future. His sense of humor often filled the auditorium with laughter during the interview.
In introduction, Rose proclaimed, “Glenn is one of the great national heroes of our time.” Although Glenn was very humble about that remark, his participation in the Marines, space program, US Senate, and education programs verify that title.
He flew 149 combat missions as a Marine fighter pilot where he was awarded six Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Air Medal, The World War II Victory Medal, and four Service Medals. When asked, “Who’s the best pilot you ever knew?” Glenn quickly responded, “Me!” He said if you don’t have the correct training and attitude of being the best, you shouldn’t be a fighter pilot.
Then he entered the space program where he flew two missions. He was the first American to orbit the earth in 1962 on Friendship 7, and later in 1998, at the age of 77, Glenn volunteered for another orbital mission to experiment on the effects of space travel on the elderly. The second flight was another record setter, as it made him the oldest man to fly in space.
One of the favorite things to do on these flights is look out the window. Glenn described the beauty of the sunsets from space, where the angle of the sun’s rays makes all the colors of the spectrum visible. Charlie Rose told him, “You sound like a poet, not a pilot.”
The International Space Station holds special interest for Glenn, but it upsets him that we pay Russia $65,000,000 for each astronaut to be taken there. He obviously wants the United States to become more active in their own space program as the lessons learned are valuable.
Between those space flights, Glenn served as U.S. Senator from Ohio for four terms. Glenn said he had aspirations of being in politics since he was a youngster and credited his high school teachers for instilling that value. Doing something for your country is exhilarating. He reminded the crowd, “Every person here is a politician and part of this solution.”
Glenn thought for a few seconds when Charlie Rose asked him, “Which president do you admire the most?” Glenn’s answer, “Bill Clinton.” He said Clinton brought about good programs, and for the first time in a long, long time we were actually paying down the national debt.
When asked about his feelings on troops being sent to Iraq, Glenn quickly answered, “No, I would not have voted for the war in Iraq.” He said he had been through two wars and they were not very pleasant things. He was also skeptical that recent deployments of military advisors to Iraq will make much of a difference, since “they’ve been fussing over there for 2,000 years”.
Education has become a big issue for the future as we are now in a global competition. He credited his teachers for starting him on the right path and encouraged students to learn about their government through Civics class promotion. At the end of his interview, he asked all students to come on stage. At that time his wife, Annie, joined him and they had their pictures taken with the group.
There wasn’t a dull moment in the interview, as Glenn and Rose brought vitality to the stage while discussing past, present and future. Today you can learn more about John and Annie Glenn by stopping in New Concord at John & Annie Glenn Historic Site, where a visit earlier in the evening provided dinner dessert, Freeze-Dried Ice Cream.
Makes me proud to be from the same area where John and Annie Glenn grew up.
Visit the John & Annie Glenn Historic Site, located in Glenn’s boyhood home, at 72 W. Main Street in New Concord, Ohio on old US Route 40 between Cambridge and Zanesville.