Remembering John Glenn

Photograph during a parade in honor of John Glenn in his hometown of Cambridge, 1962. Courtesy of the Guernsey County Historical Society via Ohio Memory.
Glenn in 1962, courtesy of the Guernsey County Historical Society via Ohio Memory.

Ohio and the entire world truly lost a hero this last week on December 8th, with the passing of John Glenn. Born in Cambridge, Ohio, on July 18, 1921, Glenn was a lifelong Ohioan who leaves behind a legacy that will be impossible to equal.

After an idyllic childhood in the village of New Concord, Glenn attended nearby Muskingum College with his childhood sweetheart, Annie, who would go on to become his wife of 73 years. Following the outbreak of World War II, Glenn enrolled in the Naval Aviation Cadet Program, and after finishing his training, piloted planes in the Pacific theater to the tune of nearly 60 missions. In the final year of the war, Glenn also became a test pilot, and had reached the rank of captain by the war’s end. Glenn continued his military service during the Korean War, flying 90 combat missions.

These experiences, combined with his skills as a pilot, led NASA to select Glenn as one of the first seven astronauts in the U.S. space program in 1958. After several years of training, Glenn rode solo into space on February 20, 1962, piloting the Friendship 7 spacecraft around the globe three times. He was the first American to orbit the earth, and only the second human–Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had claimed that title just under a year earlier in April 1961. With his historic feat, Glenn renewed the hopes of millions of Americans in the midst of the Space Race, and quickly became a household name far beyond Ohio’s borders.

John and Annie at his presidential campaign announcement, 1983. Courtesy of the OSU John Glenn Archives via Ohio Memory.

But while his spaceflight would have been more than enough to secure his name in history, Glenn did not stop there. Throughout an incredible career spanning the decades, he would also be remembered as the pilot for the first supersonic transcontinental flight (1957), a U.S. Senator from Ohio (1974-1999), a Democratic vice-presidential (1976) and presidential (1984) candidate, the oldest person to fly in space (1998), a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2012), and the namesake of John Glenn Columbus International Airport (2016), among many other accomplishments. One of Glenn’s most enduring works was his contribution to founding the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at the Ohio State University–devoted to teaching students how to turn “passion into policy.” The College has also made information available to the public about events and efforts celebrating and commemorating Glenn’s remarkable life and work.

The Ohio History Connection is now proud to have the John & Annie Glenn Museum in New Concord as part of our network of historic sites, telling the story of Glenn’s childhood as well as his military, political and space careers.

Glenn’s published speech to Congress after the Friendship 7 flight, courtesy of the OSU John Glenn Archives via Ohio Memory.

We invite you to explore some of the materials related to John Glenn that are available on Ohio Memory, including:

As an astronaut, an adventurer, a veteran, a public servant and all-around hero, John Glenn will continue to shape the world through his powerful legacy. We hope you’ll join us in saying goodbye, and “Godspeed, John Glenn.”

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