A great American passed away quietly Thursday at the age of 95. John Glenn was a Marine pilot, an astronaut, a U.S. Senator, and a citizen of the world. But, beyond that, he was a motivator—at least for me. No, he didn’t move me to become a “jarhead” (a medical condition excluded me from military service), nor did I ever dream of becoming an astronaut as a result of his feats. However, he and I have had a special connection ever since March 1, 1962, which was the day that New York City honored Glenn with a ticker-tape parade down the Canyon of Heroes—and, coincidentally, also the date that marked the only time in my life that I played hooky from school. It was all John Glenn’s fault.
Looking back on the whole thing, I guess it was inevitable that it should have happened. But who could have imagined that it would be the pilot of Friendship 7 who would provide the impetus. After all, at the tender age of 16 (I wouldn’t turn 17 until the end of that month), there had already been scores of reasons for me to become a truant: rain, snow, sun, Elvis Presley starring in Love Me Tender. But none of those things had provided the motivation necessary to engender truancy. It took John Glenn to make it happen. He had captured everyone’s imagination with his amazing orbital flight, and I just had to see him.
I did have help, though. It was longtime friend, Bill Bauer, who proved to be the lynchpin in the whole sordid affair (sorry, Bill, but the secret’s out). And I’d be a liar if I told you that I can remember all the details of that historic day, because I don’t. I think we traveled to Manhattan by bus and subway, and I have a shadowy memory of being in a restroom on the third floor of Saks Fifth Avenue, and throwing toilet paper out of the window. There is also a thin recollection of being on the street as the motorcade carrying the heroic astronaut turned a corner and passed right by us. Are the memories accurate? Probably not. But are they real? You betcha! I was there, and I’ll never forget it. I’m sure I got into some kind of trouble as a result of my transgression, but whatever the punishment was, it was surely worth it.
All kidding aside, it was with sadness that I heard the news of Glenn’s passing on Thursday. I’m sure that I have watched The Right Stuff at least a dozen times or more. I even read the book by Tom Wolfe. I still marvel at the man who hummed the Battle Hymn of the Republic as sparks from a burning heat shield flew past the little window of his capsule, as it rocketed through space. I never cease to be amazed at the bravery exhibited by those original Mercury 7 American astronauts and all those who have followed in their footsteps. If you haven’t seen the movie, nor read the book, I urge you to do so. They will give you a much needed insight into why the world is a little poorer today for the loss of John Glenn, and why it was he who motivated me to play hooky—that one and only time. John Glenn was just that special.
Godspeed, John Herschel Glenn Jr. You’re in very good company now.