Many stories have been published about John Glenn since the news of his recent death. Then again, after 95 years of life, 73 years as a husband to his childhood sweetheart, 23 years as a military pilot and astronaut, 24 years as a US Senator, and 18 years of retirement – there is much to tell outside of his accomplishments and high awards.
Those of in Ohio probably get more about the man and his life because Ohio is his state – the state where he was born and raised – the state whom he served – the state he has always called home – the state where he was born and died. In those articles, what touched me the most were the adjectives describing John Glenn: Kind, gentle, patriotic, genuine, patient, humble, charming, decent, respectful, smart, brave, gracious, determined, heroic, dedicated, simple, likable, and quiet.
The day after his death, I greatly enjoyed this story in the Cincinnati Enquirer focusing on his life. On the political side, he didn’t get the Democratic party nomination in his first attempt to be a senator representing Ohio. After all, the incumbent criticized him because he had “paid his dues” in politics.
He ran again six years later for the same seat as the incumbent was retiring. The road in the primary wasn’t easy because his opponent (Howard Metzenbaum) ran the incumbent’s campaign the last time and had the support of the state Democratic party and the unions. Glenn eventually dropped out, but Metzenbaum lost in the general election.
Ohio’s other senate seat came open in 1974, so Ohio’s governor appointed Metzenbaum to complete the term. Because the seat was up for vote in the fall, Glenn challenged Metzenbaum.
During the campaign, Metzenbaum told Ohioans they shouldn’t vote for Glenn because he “never worked for a living.” Glenn response to that criticism during their debate was strong, which may be a reason why he won the primary – and eventually the Senate seat – so it is worth reading below.
I served 23 years in the U.S. Marine Corps. I served through two wars. I flew 149 missions. My plane was hit by antiaircraft fire on 12 different occasions. I was in the space program. It wasn’t my checkbook; it was my life on the line. It was not a nine to five job where I took time off to take the daily cash receipts to the bank.
I ask you to go with me. … as I went the other day to a Veterans hospital and look at those men with their mangled bodies in the eye and tell them they didn’t hold a job. You go with me to the space program and go as I have gone to the widows and orphans of Ed White, Gus Grissom and Roger Chaffee and you look those kids in the eye and tell them that their dad didn’t hold a job.
You go with me on Memorial Day, coming up, and you stand in Arlington National Cemetery, where I have more friends than I’d like to remember and you watch those waving flags. You stand there, and you think about this nation, and you tell me that those people didn’t have a job, I’ll tell you, Howard Metzenbaum, you should be on your knees every day of your life thanking God that there were some men – some men – who held a job. And they required a dedication to purpose, a love of country and a dedication to duty that was more important than life itself. And their self-sacrifice is what made this country possible. I have held a job, Howard. What about you?
Godspeed, John Glenn … and thank you for your service and for being a role model.