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John Glenn, the first man to orbit the earth in 1962, passed away on Thursday in Ohio surrounded by family.
He was a man with many credits to his name — he broke the transcontinental flight speed record as a Marine Corps pilot before he ever set foot on a spacecraft — but even as a boy, Glenn knew that he wanted to fly.
The Columbus Airport was built when Glenn was just eight years old, and family members say that he used to beg his parents to go there so that he could watch the planes take off and land.
As if by design, as he spent his last days at a nearby hospital, the signs at that very airport were being changed to honor him. The Columbus Dispatch reported:
Earlier this year, state and airport officials renamed the airport in his honor: the John Glenn Columbus International Airport, and the new signs declaring it so started going up this week.
Glenn also lived to see the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor — the event that changed him, like so many others, and put in him a desire to serve the nation he loved.
According to the Zanesville Times Recorder, Glenn learned of the attack on his way to an organ recital where he would watch Annie, his future wife, perform:
Seventy-five years ago yesterday, the winding way up from Main Street towards Brown Chapel snaked in front of John Glenn as he drove to Annie’s organ recital. The radio played music and John listened. The music cut out and the news came, America was at war, Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor.
When John walked into Brown Chapel 75 years ago yesterday, his heart was troubled — the gravity of that day’s news beckoned him towards a grim and determined reality. When he slid into the pew for what should have been a moment of celebration and excitement, he felt the uncertainty and the trepidation that so many Americans felt that day.
Annie played the organ and a call to service came with a mysterious peace and a calming clarity. The events of that day bears witness to the most important education that any one of us could ever hope to receive — the learning of what to do when evil strikes and so much is at stake.
John said it best when he turned to Annie after the service and said “I have to go.” John remembers holding her hand with tears in her eyes as he spoke these words.
Glenn's career spanned decades — in 1998, he became the oldest man in space as a member of the crew of the space shuttle Discovery. He only gave up flying his own private plane at the age of 90.
Ohio Governor John Kasich gave a statement upon Glenn's passing, as well:
“John Glenn is, and always will be, Ohio’s ultimate hometown hero, and his passing today is an occasion for all of us to grieve. As we bow our heads and share our grief with his beloved wife, Annie, we must also turn to the skies, to salute his remarkable journeys and his long years of service to our state and nation.
Though he soared deep into space and to the heights of Capitol Hill, his heart never strayed from his steadfast Ohio roots. Godspeed, John Glenn!"
Glenn is survived by his wife, Annie, to whom he was married for 73 of his 95 years.