John Herschel Glenn, Jr. - American Hero cover

John Herschel Glenn, Jr. - American Hero


This issue of The Log Book celebrates John Glenn’s life as a Marine aviator, role model, and man of courage willing to push the boundaries of flight into space. As a test pilot, he was always pushing the limits of his machine. As a Senator, he always strived to represent his “Midwest” values; Patriotism, Family and a Faith in God. Brave and courageous Americans, this was the nature of the original Mercury 7 astronauts. They flew faster, higher, always on the edge.

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"I have grown up knowing about John Glenn and have always been intrigued with space flight. I was in Florida, watching in person with much dismay, the flight and demise of Christa McAuliffe. Great article Patrick!" 5 stars by

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John Herschel Glenn, Jr. - American Hero

“Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure science.”

Edwin Hubble, The Nature of Science, 1954.

“It’s cold out here, what are we looking for?”

As an avid six-year old TV viewer my response was, “A space capsule.”

No binoculars, no telescope, we naively looked to the sky thinking we would see a jet trail or something. We had watched Walter Cronkite, the anchor of CBS Evening News, broadcast the launch of Friendship 7 from Cape Canaveral on our black and white console television.

It was 21 degrees Fahrenheit on February 20, 1962. The skies were clear blue as we stood outdoors in our back yard in West Central Illinois (Cuba). Shivering in the cold, my father and I were looking skyward for the Mercury capsule with John Hershel Glenn Jr. to pass overhead. The first American to orbit Earth. My Hero, America’s hero. He was a man destined to become a National Treasure.

Image by Tdadamemd; alterations by Justin Ormont, CC BY-SA 3.0

How many other father and son duos do you suppose were doing the very same thing all over the world? I could only imagine. The Space Race was big news in the 1960’s. The world was watching.

Former astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn made his final take off at the age of 95 on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016, at the Ohio State University Wesleyan Medical Center in Columbus. A retired Marine Corps Colonel, Senator Glenn served as the Honorary Chairman of the Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation since 2004. His support of, and contributions to this Museum, were significant and will be deeply missed.

Born in 1921 in Cambridge, Ohio Glenn, attended primary and secondary schools in New Concord, Ohio. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering from Muskingum College in New Concord.[1]

[1] Muskingum College is among nine colleges or universities that subsequently awarded him honorary doctoral degrees.

Glenn entered the Naval Aviation Cadet Program in March 1942. He graduated and was commissioned in the Marine Corps in 1943. After advanced training, he joined Marine Fighter Squadron 155 (VMF-155, Ready Teddy), and spent a year flying F-4U Corsair fighters in the Marshall Islands. Glenn flew 59 combat missions during World War II.

Little known fact was he flew alongside Charles Lindbergh, who piloted 50 combat missions in the Pacific theater as a civilian volunteer for U.S. service in World War II.

After the war, Glenn was a member of Marine Fighter Squadron 218 (VFM-218, Firebirds) on the North China patrol and served on Guam. From June 1948 to December 1950, he served as an instructor in advanced flight training at Corpus Christi, Texas. He then attended Amphibious Warfare Training at Quantico, VA.

During the Korean War, Glenn flew 63 missions with Marine Fighter Squadron 311 (VMF-311,Tomcats). However, it was as an exchange pilot with the United States Air Force that Glenn achieved his greatest success in aerial combat. While serving with the Air Force, Glenn flew 27 missions in the F-86 Sabre. In the last nine days of fighting in Korea, Glenn shot down three MiGs in combat along the Yalu River.

Glenn attended Test Pilot School at the Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, MD. After graduation, he was project officer on several aircraft. He was assigned to the Fighter Design Branch of the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics (now Bureau of Naval Weapons) in Washington, DC from November 1956 to April 1959. During that time, he attended the University of Maryland.

In July 1957, while he was project officer of the Vought F-8U Crusader, he set a transcontinental speed record from Los Angeles to New York -- 3 hours and 23 minutes. Glenn’s flight, called “Project Bullet,” was the first transcontinental flight to average supersonic speed. This achievement made then Major John Glenn a national celebrity.

In sum, Glenn accumulated nearly 9,000 hours of flying time. About 3,000 of these hours were in jets.

After his selection as one of the original seven Project Mercury astronauts, Glenn was assigned to the NASA Space Task Group at Langley, Va., in April 1959.[2] The Space Task Group was moved to Houston, TX and became part of the NASA Manned Spacecraft Center (now Johnson Space Center) in 1962.

[2] At age 35 in 1957, Glenn was the oldest of the seven original astronauts.

Astronaut John Glenn relaxes aboard the USS Noa after being recovered from the Atlantic Ocean near Grand Turk Island, where his capsule landed at the end of his historic Mercury flight. Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth on February 20, 1962 in his "Friendship 7" capsule. NASA

Before his 4-hour, 55-minute flight in the Friendship 7 capsule, Glenn served as backup pilot for astronauts Alan Shepard, the first American in space who flew on May 5, 1961, and to Virgil "Gus" Grissom, who followed Shepard on a suborbital flight on July 21, 1961.

Glenn’s Friendship 7 flight kept the television audience glued to their sets. However, the flight was not without some trouble. Just after the start of Glenn’s second orbit, Mission Control received a “Segment 51,” sensor warning indicating that the heat shield on the spacecraft had come loose. This could have possibly created a catastrophic event. Given the “Segment 51” warning, the flight of Friendship 7 was shortened to three orbits. Re-entry was a serious concern to the entire flight team because the spacecraft would burn up on re-entry if the heat shield were loose or missing. [3]

[3] Despite the technical trouble, Glenn maintained his sense of humor. During the third orbit, he asked backup astronaut Gordon Cooper to notify General David Shoup, (Commandant of the Marine Corps), that three orbits should meet the minimum monthly requirement of four hours' flying time. He also asked to be certified as eligible for his regular flight pay.

During the final orbit, Glenn believed the automatic control systems had malfunctioned. As such, he would fly the spacecraft manually. This had never been done before and no one knew what to expect. Glenn remained unflappable. As the drama played out, the world watched and waited.

Glenn left the retrorocket pack in place to steady the heat shield during re-entry. He later recalled, "It made for a very spectacular re-entry from where I was sitting." Big chunks of the burning material came flying by the window. He wasn't sure whether the flaming debris was the rocket pack or the heat shield breaking up. "Fortunately," he later told an interviewer, “it was the rocket pack -- or I wouldn't be answering these questions.”

Astronaut John H. Glenn, Jr., pilot of the Mercury-Atlas 6 (MA-6) space flight, enters the Mercury "Friendship 7" spacecraft during the MA-6 pre-launch preparations at Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA

After their respective flights, astronauts Shepard, Grissom and Glenn were assigned to provide pilot input for the design and development of NASA spacecraft. Glenn specialized in cockpit layout and control functioning. In this capacity, he was involved is some of the early designs for the Apollo Project.

Of the Project Mercury astronauts, President John F. Kennedy stated, “There are milestones in human progress, that mark recorded history. In my judgement, this nation’s orbital pioneering in space is of such historic stature.”

Designated as American Hero and National treasure, President Kennedy mandated that he would not fly in space again. “The risk of losing a national treasure is too great.” Glenn resigned as an astronaut on Jan. 16, 1964. He was promoted to Colonel in October 1964 and retired from the Marine Corps on January 1, 1965.

Glenn was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on six occasions, and holds the Air Medal with 18 Clusters for his service during World War II and Korea.

Glenn also received the Navy Unit Commendation for service in Korea, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the China Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the 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 retiring from the Marine Corps, Glenn was hired as an executive with Royal Crown Cola. However, he had his sights set on continued public service to our country.

Perseverance - with a deep drive to serve his country, John Glenn was elected to the United States Senate in November 1974. It was his third attempt at political office. Senator Glenn served the people of Ohio for four terms until his retirement in January 1999.

Courage - At 77 years old, Glenn once again climbed aboard a rocket. It was 1998, and Glenn flew on board the shuttle Discovery during the STS-95 flight. This was a 9-day mission during which the crew supported a variety of research payloads including deployment of the Spartan solar-observing spacecraft, the Hubble Space Telescope Orbital Systems Test Platform, and Glenn's investigations on space flight and the aging process. To this date, John Glenn remains the oldest person to ever travel in space. He became an American hero once again, and inspired a whole new generation of young people.

John Glenn’s life story is a treasured one for many young people throughout the world who value Honor, Courage, Commitment and the American Hero. He remains an inspiration to individuals who find the strength to persevere and endure despite overwhelming obstacles.

How many young men gazed into a black velvet starlit night aspired to become a pilot, a Marine, or maybe an Astronaut during the era of the Mercury program? The world had seen Alan Shepard and Virgil Grissom take the first steps for America in space. However, it was then Lt. Colonel John Glenn became the nation’s all American hero. Television made that possible. While Russia made headlines in the newspapers, the death defying reality of America’s Space Program was front and center for all to see.

This issue of The Log Book celebrates John Glenn’s life as a Marine aviator, role model, and man of courage willing to push the boundaries of flight into space. As a test pilot, he was always pushing the limits of his machine. As a Senator, he always strived to represent his “Midwest” values; Patriotism, Family and a Faith in God. Brave and courageous Americans, this was the nature of the original Mercury 7 astronauts. They flew faster, higher, always on the edge.

“John Glenn is the all-American boy who became the all-American Hero, that became the all-American public servant.” - Bill Nelson

A camera aboard the "Friendship 7" Mercury spacecraft photographs Astronaut John H. Glenn Jr. during the Mercury-Atlas 6 spaceflight (00302-3); Photographs Glenn as he uses a photometer to view the sun during sunset on the MA-6 space flight (00304). NASA

“Godspeed, John Glenn.”

(This article appeared in the Summer 2017 edition, Flying Leathernecks LogBook)