18Dec2016

Godspeed, John Glenn: People Say Goodbye To Space-Age Hero

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John Glenn’s body lies in repose at the Ohio Statehouse Friday. He died Dec. 8 at the age of 95. Jessica Phelps/Gannett Ohio

Glenn flew 149 combat missions as a Marine pilot, became the first American astronaut to orbit Earth, and served 24 years as a Democratic U.S. senator. One by one, they stepped forward to honor the former U.S. senator and astronaut.

All the driving, the parking, the weaving through a cordoned queue – for five quiet seconds, a moment alone in front of John Glenn’s casket in the Statehouse rotunda. When they got there, they couldn’t actually see Glenn. They could only see the American flag that draped his casket. That’s how he would have wanted it.

After Glenn became the first American astronaut to orbit Earth and returned a hero, “he could have done anything that he wanted to do,” said Randy Walker, 66, a retired Columbus police officer who brought his grandson along as he paid his respects Friday.

Instead of pursuing fame and celebrity, Glenn kept serving his country. It was all he knew to do. “He was such a man of honor, and that’s what we’re missing in this country,” Walker said, through tears. “Besides my dad, he’s the greatest hero that I’ve ever known.”

In 2016, a year of division and uncertainty and even hatred, we long to remember people like Glenn. We long to find a hero who we are sure did the right thing, fought on the right side, made us proud.

So for hours, people who remembered Glenn, and people who didn’t, filed past his casket, which rested at the same spot where mourners passed by President Abraham Lincoln’s body 151 years ago. A bust of the president who saved the Union gazed over Glenn’s mourners Friday.

Many came from Greater Columbus, astonished they could drive so short a distance to honor such a giant in history. Others crossed the country. The board that governs use of the Statehouse had to pass an exception to allow Glenn to lie where Lincoln lay – a seemingly ridiculous formality. If anyone embodied the goodness and greatness of the American spirit, it was Glenn.

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John Glenn waves to journalists as he leaves the Operations and Checkout building at the Kennedy Space Center for his shuttle flight in 1998

Glenn’s family shared Friday with the people of Ohio and is opening his funeral to them Saturday. They had always shared him. It just seemed right. So when Annie Glenn entered to see her husband’s casket, clutching a tissue, maybe it made sense that whoever was at the front of the line at the time had a 15-minute window into her personal grief. Annie put her hand on her best friend’s casket, lowered her head and cried, shoulders shaking.

“You don’t know what it means for you Marines to be here,” she told the five-person guard – several of them boys, really – standing watch over the former Marine fighter pilot. That’s when Sgt. Maj. Joseph Gray started to cry. Source: Cincinatti.com

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