“The last true national hero America has ever had.” That’s how writer Tom Wolfe described John Glenn.
Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, died on December 8. He was ninety-five.
While most will remember him for his career as an astronaut and a four-term U.S. Senator, Glenn was also a man of faith.
At the press conference held in 1959 to introduce NASA’s choices for the U.S. space program, Glenn shocked his fellow astronauts, as well as the nation, with his candid answers to inquiries about family and religion. The strategy was for the members of the team to be brief and non-specific. Glenn quickly went out of bounds.
“I don’t think any of us could really go on with something like this,” Glenn told reporters, “if we didn’t have pretty good backing at home. My attitude toward this has been the same as it has been all along through all my flying. If it is what I want to do, she [my wife] is behind it, and the kids are too—a hundred percent.”
When asked about his religious affiliation, Glenn responded: “…I take my religion very seriously… We are placed here with certain talents and capabilities. It is up to each of us to use those talents and capabilities as best you can. If you do that, I think there is a power greater than any of us that will place the opportunities in our way, and if we use our talents properly, we will be living the kind of life we should.”
In 1962, the New York Bible Society (NYBS) presented Glenn with a Bible. An article from the New York Times, March 3rd 1962, states: “Nearly 1,000 organizations had clamored for the honor of presenting the astronaut some token of their esteem. Nearly all had to be turned aside. Yesterday, however, the colonel received two scrolls, a resolution, an invitation, a Bible, and the trumpet.”
The Bible was red leather, embossed in gold, presented to Colonel Glenn by the President of NYBS, Robert F. Nelson. Rumor has it that Glenn took the Bible with him during his three-day orbit of earth.
Glenn once noted: “I’m not interested in my legacy. I made up a new word: ‘live-acy.’ I’m more interested in living.”
As the world mourns the passing of a great American hero – an astronaut who courageously forged a path into space and a Senator who served his country faithfully – we also celebrate Glenn’s bold declaration of his belief in God and a life well lived.