American hero astronaut John Glenn died last week at the age of 95, after a life that almost defies explanation. One of the first men into space, Glenn, a United States Marine pilot, became a national hero when he became the first American to orbit the earth. Later, as a sitting senator at the age of 77, Glenn went into space again, this time in a shuttle on what was likely a much more comfortable trip. Between these two trips, John Glenn lived a life defined by celebrity, heroism, and public service. Now that hero will receive a hero’s send-off.
Glenn lay in state in Ohio, where services celebrating his life and his accomplishments were held, before being interred at Arlington National Cemetery, the final resting place of countless American heroes. If anyone has earned a spot in Arlington, Glenn has. Defense Secretary Ash Carter offered this statement on a man who, more than just about anyone, was a living legend of mythical proportions in the United States, “Throughout his life, Senator John Glenn embodied the right stuff… Our military, in particular, benefited from his courage and dedication … But just as important as what John Glenn accomplished is how he accomplished it: with a combination of fierce determination and profound humility, and always with integrity.”
Integrity, bravery, and humility —these qualities have long since defined American heroes, but few have lived up to the title as well as Glenn, who coupled a fierce resolve with unshakable confidence and a deep and abiding love of country. Glenn was comfortable on the big stage, but never quite left Ohio behind. He was not only a hero but a benchmark of what came to be known as The Greatest Generation.
To his friends, Glenn embodied the “what you see is what you get” qualities so prized by his generation and those that they raised. He was strong and blunt, but he rounded off his sharp edges with a quick wit, often employed at his own expense. The man whom generations of Americans grew up revering managed to never take himself too seriously.
John Glenn managed to let his work do his talking and largely allowed others to sing his praises, something they will likely be doing in this country – and in many parts of the world – for generations to come.