Tuesday, February 20, 2018

John Glenn Orbits the Earth

It was on this day in 1962 that John Glenn electrified the nation and the world with his orbital flight.  His Mercury flight took him around the globe three times in a little under five hours; that was enough to raise him up to a level of instant hero frenzy not seen since Charles Lindbergh’s solo transatlantic flight thirty-five years earlier.  Glenn later said of Luck Lindy, “I couldn’t say why, but he inspired in me a feeling of kinship.”

Three days later, he and his wife, Annie, met with President Kennedy at Cape Canaveral, where the astronaut received NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal and the president examined the recovered Friendship 7 capsule, which was less than seven feet long.  Glenn was feted with parades in Cocoa Beach, Florida, Washington, D.C., and New York City, where the ticker-tape parade on March 1 attracted four million people.

In April 1962 he was clearly the hero of the hour when forty-nine Nobel Prize winners and other American intellectuals where honored at the White House.  That night he sat next to Pearl S. Buck, perhaps America’s most distinguished novelist at the time, at First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s table.  She was starstruck:  “I had very much wanted to meet him," Miss Buck said, “and I fear my dinner conversation was mainly with him.” 

Glenn forged a relationship with the Kennedy family that lasted decades.  He was eventually elected to the U.S. Senate in 1974 and reelected three times, ending his service in January 1999.  When he died in 2016 at age ninety-five, he was given a justified hero’s funeral in Columbus, Ohio.  Four months later, he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, about a quarter-mile from the burial site of President John Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

This and more about Glenn, the Kennedys and the Nobel dinner is covered in my book Dinner in Camelot: The Night that America’s Greatest Scientists, Writers, and Scholars Partied at the Kennedy White House (ForeEdge; publication date:  April 3).  The book is available for preorder everywhere.

The photo is of John Glenn’s historic ticker-tape parade in New York City.  Source: John  Glenn Archives, The Ohio State University (NASA photograph); public domain.

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