The author Tom Wolfe wrote that Glenn, once a small-town American, became “the last true national hero America has ever made.”
But that’s not the only title Glenn earned during his career. As a Marine fighter pilot, while flying 149 combat missions during World War II and the Korean War, he received the nickname “Old Magnet Ass” for his ability to draw enemy fire and keep the plane flying with huge holes blown into its exterior.
Most Americans remember Glenn for taking to space in 1962. Dubbed Friendship 7, Glenn’s space capsule circled the Earth and put the United States on equal footing with the Soviet Union in the space race.
Glenn joined the Mercury 7, America’s first class of astronauts, after setting the transcontinental speed record as a test pilot. He said he aimed to be the first man in space, but was relegated to a backup role behind Alan Shepard. A Russian cosmonaut beat them to it, and Glenn got the Americans’ lead role on February 20, 1962, riding a Mercury-Atlas rocket from Cape Canaveral.
Upon seeing the earth from 100 miles above for the first time, Glenn famously remarked: “Oh, that view is tremendous!” America’s New Frontiersman then traveled around the globe three times at 17,500 miles per hour, spending a total of five hours in space.
Glenn’s re-entry was particularly shaky, and his capsule nearly burned up in the atmosphere, but when he came down in the ocean 800 miles southeast of Bermuda, the country cheered.
Glenn was met by John F. Kennedy, with whom he became friends. Later, the former astronaut would pursue a political career. His first two attempts at the U.S. Senate failed, but he won a seat from Ohio in 1974. A liberal Democrat, he served four terms and retired in 1999. He briefly ran for president in 1984.
Those a bit younger might remember Glenn’s return to space while still a sitting senator. Then 77, Glenn took to space one last time on the shuttle discovery, becoming the oldest person to make the trip.
More recently, Glenn earned the Congressional Gold Medal in 2011.
Glenn has suffered from a number of health problems of late. The 95-year-old former Marine suffered a stroke two years ago after having heart valve replacement surgery.
More than a week ago, Glenn was taken to the James Cancer Hospital at Ohio State University.