Some choice bits from John Noble Wilford’s (the same person who wrote
the NYT front-page story about the moon landing, mind you) tribute to John Glenn, who passed away last week at age 95:
Mr. Glenn was reluctant to talk about himself as a hero. “I figure I’m the same person who grew up in New Concord, Ohio, and went off through the years to participate in a lot of events of importance,” he said in an interview years later. “What got a lot of attention, I think, was the tenuous times we thought we were living in back in the Cold War. I don’t think it was about me. All this would have happened to anyone who happened to be selected for that flight.”
All seven men were eager, competitive and ambitious, but none more so than Mr. Glenn. Tom Miller, a retired Marine general and close friend since they were rookie pilots in World War II, recalled that Mr. Glenn was so determined to be an astronaut that he applied weight to his head to compress his height down to the 5-foot-11-inch maximum for the first astronauts. “He wasn’t going to miss a trick,” Mr. Miller said. “He’d be sitting down reading with a big bunch of books sitting on his head.”
“Right away, I could see flaming chunks flying by the window, and I thought the heat shield might be falling apart,” he wrote after the flight. “This was a bad moment. But I knew that if that was really happening, it would all be over shortly, and there was nothing I could do about it.”
The capsule splashed down in the Atlantic off the Bahamas, where a Navy destroyer was waiting. Mr. Glenn radioed, “My condition is good, but that was a real fireball, boy.”
What a life.