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Happy Blues For John Glenn
b/ Lightning Hopkins
An honest-to-God Boy Scout, and the first American to Orbit the Earth.
• SPACE COAST, FLA. (Table Of Contents)
Around the World In Quarter A Day
February 20, 1962
John Glenn takes off aboard an Atlas rocket, makes three orbits of the Earth in his Friendship 7 Mercury capsule, and splashes down in the Atlantic, 300 miles southeast of Cape Canaveral, Florida where he had escaped the Earth’s atmosphere, 4 Hours and 55 minutes earlier.
John Herschel Glenn Jr.
(July 18, 1921 – December 8, 2016)
A United States Marine Corps aviator, engineer, astronaut, businessman, and politician. He was the first American to orbit the Earth, circling it three times in 1962. Following his retirement from NASA, he served from 1974 to 1999 as a Democratic United States Senator from Ohio.
Before joining NASA, Glenn was a distinguished fighter pilot in World War II, China and Korea. He shot down three MiG-15s, and was awarded six Distinguished Flying Crosses and eighteen Air Medals. In 1957, he made the first supersonic transcontinental flight across the United States. His on-board camera took the first continuous, panoramic photograph of the United States.
He was one of the Mercury Seven, military test pilots selected in 1959 by NASA as the nation’s first astronauts. On February 20, 1962, Glenn flew the Friendship 7 mission, becoming the first American to orbit the Earth, and the fifth person and third American in space. He received the NASA Distinguished Service Medal in 1962, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor in 1978, was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in 1990, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.
Glenn resigned from NASA in January 1964. A member of the Democratic Party, Glenn was first elected to the Senate in 1974 and served for 24 years, until January 1999. In 1998, while still a sitting Senator, Glenn flew on the Discovery space shuttle’s STS-95 mission, making him the oldest person to fly in space and the only person to fly in both the Mercury and Space Shuttle programs. Glenn, the last surviving member of the Mercury Seven, died at the age of 95 in 2016. He is survived by his wife Annie Glenn, an advocate for people with disabilities and communication disorders
John Herschel Glenn Jr. was born on July 18, 1921, in Cambridge, Ohio, the son of John Herschel Glenn Sr., who worked for a plumbing firm, and Clara Teresa née Sproat, a teacher. His parents had married shortly before his father, a member of the American Expeditionary Force, left for the Western Front during World War I. The family moved to New Concord, Ohio, soon after his birth, and his father started his own business, the Glenn Plumbing Company. Glenn Jr. was only a toddler when he met Anna Margaret (Annie) Castor, who would later become his wife. The two would not be able to recall a time when they did not know each other. He first flew in an airplane with his father when he was eight years old. He became fascinated by flight, and built model airplanes from balsa wood kits. Along with his adopted sister Jean, he attended New Concord Elementary School. He washed cars and sold rhubarb to earn money to buy a bicycle, after which he took a job delivering The Columbus Dispatch newspaper. He was a member of the Ohio Rangers, an organization similar to the Cub Scouts. His boyhood home in New Concord has been restored as a historic house museum and education center.
Glenn attended New Concord High School, where he played on the varsity football team as a center and linebacker. He also made the varsity basketball and tennis teams, and was involved with Hi-Y, a junior branch of the YMCA. After graduating in 1939, Glenn entered Muskingum College, where he studied chemistry, was a member of the Stag Club fraternity, and played on the football team. Annie majored in music with minors in secretarial studies and physical education while competing on the swimming and volleyball teams. Glenn earned a private pilot license and a physics course credit for free through the Civilian Pilot Training Program in 1941. He did not complete his senior year in residence or take a proficiency exam, both required by the school for its Bachelor of Science degree.
World War II
When the United States entered World War II, Glenn quit college to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He was never called to duty by the Army, and enlisted as a U.S. Navy aviation cadet in March 1942. Glenn attended the University of Iowa in Iowa City for pre-flight training and continued at Naval Air Station Olathe in Kansas for primary training, where he made his first solo flight in a military aircraft. During advanced training at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi in Texas, he accepted an offer to transfer to the U.S. Marine Corps. Having completed his flight training in March 1943, Glenn was commissioned as a second lieutenant. After advanced training at Camp Kearny, California, he was assigned to Marine Squadron VMJ-353, which flew R4D transport planes from there. Glenn married Annie in a Presbyterian ceremony at College Drive Church in New Concord, Ohio, on April 6, 1943.
The fighter squadron VMO-155 was also at Camp Kearny flying the Grumman F4F Wildcat. Glenn approached the squadron’s commander, Major J. P. Haines, who suggested that he could put in for a transfer. This was approved, and Glenn was posted to VMO-155 on July 2, 1943, two days before the squadron moved to Marine Corps Air Station El Centro in California. The Wildcat was obsolete by this time, and VMO-155 re-equipped with the F4U Corsair in September 1943. He was promoted to first lieutenant in October 1943, and shipped out to Hawaii in January 1944. VMO-155 became part of the garrison on Midway Atoll on February 21, then moved to the Marshall Islands in June 1944 and flew 57 combat missions in the area. He received two Distinguished Flying Crosses and ten Air Medals.
At the end of his one-year tour of duty in February 1945, Glenn was assigned to Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in North Carolina, then to Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland. He was promoted to captain in July 1945 and ordered back to Cherry Point. There, he joined VMF-913, another Corsair squadron, and learned that he had qualified for a regular commission. In March 1946, he was assigned to Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in southern California. He volunteered for service with the occupation in North China, believing that it would be a short tour. He joined VMF-218 (another Corsair squadron), which was based at Nanyuan Field near Beijing, in December 1946, and flew patrol missions until VMF-218 was transferred to Guam in March 1947.
In December 1948, Glenn was re-posted to NAS Corpus Christi as a student at the Naval School of All-Weather Flight before becoming a flight instructor. In July 1951, he was sent to the Amphibious Warfare School at Marine Corps Base Quantico in northern Virginia for a six-month course. He then joined the staff of the Commandant of the Marine Corps Schools. Given only four hours of flying time per month, he maintained his proficiency (and flight pay) by flying on weekends. He was promoted to major in July 1952. Glenn received the World War II Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal (with one star), Navy Occupation Service Medal (with Asia clasp), and the China Service Medal for his efforts.
Glenn’s USAF F-86F, dubbed “MiG Mad Marine”, during the Korean War in 1953. The names of his wife and children are also written on the aircraft.
Glenn took a short period of leave during which he moved his family back to New Concord, and after two and a half months of jet training at Cherry Point, was ordered to South Korea in October 1952, late in the Korean War. Before he set out for Korea in February 1953, he applied for an inter-service exchange position with the U.S. Air Force (USAF) to fly the F-86 Sabre jet fighter-interceptor. In preparation, he arranged with Colonel Leon W. Gray to check out the F-86 at Otis Air Force Base in Massachusetts. Pending this exchange assignment, Glenn reported to K-3, an airbase in South Korea, on February 3, 1953, and was assigned to be the operations officer for VMF-311, one of two Marine fighter squadrons there. VMF-311 was equipped with the F9F Panther jet fighter-bomber. Glenn’s first mission was a reconnaissance flight on February 26. He flew 63 combat missions in Korea with VMF-311, and was nicknamed “Magnet Ass” because of the number of flak hits he took on low-level close air support missions; twice, he returned to base with over 250 holes in his plane. He flew for a time with Marine reservist Ted Williams (a future Hall of Fame baseball player with the Boston Red Sox) as his wingman, and also flew with future major general Ralph H. Spanjer.
In June 1953, Glenn’s USAF exchange position came through and he reported for duty with the USAF’s 25th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, and flew 27 combat missions in the F-86, a much faster aircraft than the F9F Panther, patrolling MiG Alley. Combat with a MiG-15, which was faster and better armed still, was regarded as the apogee for a fighter pilot. On the USAF buses that took the pilots out to the airfields before dawn, pilots who had been shot at by a MiG could sit while those who had not had to stand. Glenn later wrote, “Since the days of the Lafayette Escadrille during World War I, pilots have viewed air-to-air combat as the ultimate test not only of their machines but of their own personal determination and flying skills. I was no exception.” He hoped to become the second Marine jet flying ace after John F. Bolt. When Glenn complained about there not being any MiGs to shoot at, his USAF squadron mates painted “MiG Mad Marine” on his aircraft. He shot down his first MiG in a dogfight on July 12, 1953, downed a second one on July 19, and a third on July 22 during an aerial engagement in which four Sabres shot down three MiGs. These were the final air victories of the war, which ended with an armistice five days later. For his service in Korea, Glenn received two more Distinguished Flying Crosses and eight more Air Medals. Glenn also received the Korean Service Medal (with two campaign stars), United Nations Korea Medal, Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal, National Defense Service Medal (with one star), and the Korean War Service Medal.