John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth who later became the world’s oldest astronaut and a longtime U.S. senator, was laid to rest on Thursday at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Glenn, who author Tom Wolfe once called “the last true national hero America has ever had,” died four months ago in his home state of Ohio at the age of 95.
After a private service at a chapel on the cemetery grounds, a horse-drawn carriage pulled Glenn’s flag-draped casket to his burial site. There was a short graveside ceremony broadcast online by NASA Television. Then, Gen. Robert Neller, Commandant of the Marine Corps, handed the flag that had draped the casket to Glenn’s 97-year-old widow, Annie Glenn. She kissed him.
Glenn was a Marine Corps test pilot when he was chosen to be one of the seven original U.S. astronauts. He was the third American in space, the first to orbit the earth.
His three laps around the world on Feb. 20, 1962, in a space capsule called Friendship 7, forged a powerful link between the former fighter pilot and the Kennedy-era quest to explore outer space as a “New Frontier.” After his mission, he received a hero’s welcome including a tickertape parade near Wall Street, in New York City’s “Canyon of Heroes.”
Wolfe chronicled the experiences of the original seven U.S. astronauts in his book, “The Right Stuff,” which later became a popular movie.
Glenn’s widespread popularity helped him get elected as a Democratic candidate to the U.S. Senator from his home state of Ohio, which he represented from 1974 to 1999.
Just before the end of his Senate career, in October 1998, the 77-year-old Glenn became the oldest astronaut, serving as a mission specialist on the seven-member crew of the space shuttle Discovery.
The NASA launch announcer at the time said, “Liftoff of Discovery with six astronaut heroes and one American legend.”