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John Glenn 'defined what it meant to be an American'

Dignitaries, friends, family praise the late astronaut, statesman

by Marc Kovac | Capital Bureau Chief Published: December 18, 2016 9:50 AM
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Columbus -- Astronaut, Marine and U.S. Sen. John Glenn was remembered Dec. 17 for his public service, humility, pioneering spirit, dedication to country, his beloved state of Ohio and his wife of more than seven decades, Annie.

"I think John defined what it meant to be an American," said Vice President Joe Biden, one of 2,500 dignitaries, family members, friends and citizens who attended the public funeral service on the campus of Ohio State University. " The thing that I liked most about John was he knew from his upbringing that ordinary Americans could do extraordinary things If we're looking for a message to send about our time on earth and what it means to be an American, it's the life of John Glenn, and that is not hyperbole."

Glenn lay in repose at the Statehouse Friday, and thousands of visitors paid their last respects before his flag-draped casket in the Rotunda.

A platoon of U.S. Marines escorted the hearse carrying Glenn from Capitol Square several miles up High Street to the OSU auditorium, where attendees paid tribute to the man many considered an American hero -- a decorated fighter pilot, one of the nation's original astronauts and a U.S. senator who represented the state for four terms.

Retired Marines Corps General John Dailey called Glenn his hero -- a man who embodied the ideals of the nation.

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"He defined an age of American history in three storied institutions," he said. "But whether he was orbiting the earth or the Senate floor, he was always a Marine."

He added, "We had John for 95 great years, and it still wasn't enough. A long full life is a gift, and John made his a gift to us all."

Saturday's services included video footage and photos of Glenn recounting his childhood in the Cambridge area and his military and public service.

Ohio State University President Michael V. Drake said Glenn radiated authenticity and "confident, perfect humility."

"He let his actions speak for themselves," he said, " always doing his best to inspire by example, an unwavering theme in his life."

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NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr. said Glenn's pioneering spirit paved the way to future exploration.

"It was courage, grace and humility John displayed throughout his life that lifted him above the stars," he said. "We are standing on John Glenn's shoulders as we pursue a human journey to Mars, a journey that would not be possible without his bravery and selfless dedication."

Sen. Sherrod Brown said Glenn was an "FDR Democrat who cared about justice and cared about opportunity for people with less privilege than most of us in this room have."

"It was a New Deal, government-backed FHA loan that allowed John's father to renegotiate with the bank and keep his family in their home [in New Concord, during the Great Depression]," he said. "John knew, as he later wrote in his memoir that, 'that government can change people's lives for the better.'"

He added, "John believed in an activist government and an active citizenship. And he warned that cynicism and apathy were a threat to democracy itself."

Bolden also thanked Glenn's family for sharing their husband, father and grandfather with the nation, spotlighting his marriage to Annie as a "lifetime of love."

"Annie, you and John exemplified for all of us what it means to be united as a couple," he said. "Your love and friendship over 73 years is unlike anything I have ever seen."

Glenn's son, David, recalled his father's love of science and the outdoors, his explanations of what made an airplane fly and the backup systems on the Mercury craft that took him into space, his acceptance and support of his children and the ways he cared for people in general.

"We really were not ready to say goodbye to him yet. His mind was sharp as a tack, but his body was failing him, and this had to be," he said, adding, "He treated everyone, cab drivers and presidents, with the same respect and interest."

Glenn's daughter, Lyn, read from a letter she wrote her father, to be placed in his casket.

"You have been my teacher, my nemesis, my singing partner," she said, recounting that her dad taught her to parallel park a car, tie a necktie, slide a car on ice and memorize your Social Security number -- and that westerns were the highest form of entertainment.

She added "Life with you, dad, was never boring."

Lyn Glenn also described how her father taught her about the public service responsibility that comes with citizenship.

"What have you done for your country today?" she recalled Glenn asking her when she was 8 years old. " You were teaching me that our country was more important than any individual, and our country is stronger when we each do our part."

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.


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