As we say goodbye to the year 2020, Doctor Aviation says good bye to an aviation legend’s wife. Mrs. John Glenn, AKA Annie Glenn
The Military Aviator
John Glenn was born in 1921 in Cambridge, Ohio and grew up in New Concord, near Columbus. In 1943 Glenn earned a commission in the United State Marine Corps and his pilot wings. He was assigned a F-4U fighter and sent to the Marshall Islands. Before the war ended, he flew 59 combat missions.
In the Korean Conflict, John Glenn flew 63 combat missions with his Marine Corps unit. He was also an exchange officer for the Air Force, flying the F-86 Sabre. All told he flew 27 combat missions in the Air Force aircraft. However, he garnered glory in the last nine days. Along the Yalu River, Glenn shot down 3 Migs in that timespan.
After Korean Conflict, Glenn became a test pilot at Pax River in Maryland. He broke the transcontinental speed record in an F-8U Crusader averaging supersonic speed from LA to New York.
He became a national celebrity with his performance on the game show: Name that Tune
Many assumed John Glenn would be the first American in space, but that honor went to Alan Shepherd (Glenn was his backup). Shepherd’s suborbital flight was followed by Gus Grissom’s.
However, the crème de la crème, was John Glenn’s space flight on February 20, 1962. Viewers held their breath for four and a half hours as Friendship Seven (with Glenn at the controls) orbited the earth with an American onboard. Furthermore, Glenn really was at the controls as the automatic control system failed early in the flight. Glenn had to take over manually for the remainder of the voyage.
Further drama unfolded when a sensor indicated that Glenn’s heatshield was loose. If the heat shield came off during reentry, Glenn would be burned alive. In a scene recreated in the movie, “The Right Stuff” mission control debates whether to inform Glenn of the situation. The astronauts on the ground stump for Glenn to be informed and he is. The decision is made to keep a retrorocket pack in place to help keep the shield intact. This resulted in a fiery, but successful, reentry.
Glenn resigned from NASA in 1964 and retired from the Marine Corps in 1965. In 1974 he was elected to the US Senate from Ohio and served four terms. Thirty-six years after his initial space flight, Glenn returned to space on the Space Shuttle Discovery. STS-95 took Glenn into space for nine days. Glenn died on December 8, 2016.
The movie, The Right Stuff, came out during my Firstie (Senior) Year at the Air Force Academy. It was a “must see” for all of the cadets. The movie was based on Tom Wolfe’s best seller of the same name.
In the movie, John Glenn’s wife was featured, Annie. Quiet and faithful. She stood by John’s side, but did not speak. She had a severe stuttering problem. It did not matter to John; he and Annie had been playmates as children. He loved the lady.
The New York Times reveals the story of how Annie overcame her speech impediment in 1973. For the first time in half a century she could complete sentences!
The faithful astronaut’s wife died this year, on May 19. The official cause of death is listed as complications from the Corona Virus. In reality it was old age –she was over 100 years old.
When John Glenn lifted off in Friendship Seven on that February day almost 59 years ago, an engineer named T. J. O’Malley launched the rocket with the press of a button. O’Malley said, “the Good Lord ride all the way”. Meanwhile, fellow Mercury Seven astronaut Scott Carpenter was at the microphone in the Launch Control Center. Carpenter followed O’Malley’s prayer with “Godspeed John Glenn”. That admonition became part of the American vocabulary for a generation. On the occasion of her passing, I borrow the phrase. “Godspeed, Mrs. John Glenn”.