When WC read of John Glenn’s death, he immediately flashed back to 4th Grade, when WC’s teacher had the whole class write letters to Glenn congratulating him on his successful orbital flight in 1962.1 Unusually for the time, Mrs. Klaich made a real effort to ground our grade school class in current events. We all wrote letters to Governor Bill Egan, too.
WC can’t recall what he wrote, in his painful, looping left-handed penmanship,2 other than that he probably spelling “Glenn” wrong. What WC will do instead, is write an updated version of that letter today.
Dear Senator Glenn:
May I tell you how much I admire you? You’re a war hero, not just of one war but two. You received Distinguished Flying Crosses in World War I and the Korean War. You’re a test pilot, and at one time held the record for fastest transcontinental flight. You were famously a member of the Mercury 7, the original seven American astronauts, and the first American to genuinely orbit the earth. That made you a hero, and President Kennedy refused to allow you to risk yourself in further spaceflights.
You were a U.S. Senator for four terms, serving as a thoughtful, honest and effective senator for the people of Ohio. You generally avoided scandal, and when you did get sucked into the Charles Keating affair you were straightforward about it, explained what had happened and showed sincere contrition and embarrassment. You were a model of what WC looks for and expects from a U.S. Senator, and rarely actually receives.
You served on countless commissions, task forces and investigations. You risked your life for your country and pretty much devoted your life to the United States. You were embarrassed by the praise, the countless places named after you. So far as WC knows, you only once used your fame to personal advantage, when you hitched a ride on the Space Shuttle Discovery, at age 77, for one last, too-long-delayed flight back in to space.
You, sir, are WC’s hero. Thank you for all you have done for your countrymen and country. Not the least os which was to give all of us someone to serve as a model, an aspiration.
/s/ Wickersham’s Conscience
It was John Glenn who got WC interested in science, in science fiction and in current events. It was Glenn’s offhand comment that Mercury space capsules were “a lot more complicated than a pinball machine” that inspired WC’s 6th grade teacher, Jerry Norum, to talk to the Fairbanks Police Department to give Norum a forfeited pinball machine for his students – including WC – to dismantle.
Rest in Peace, John Glenn. You were a credit to us all, who basked in your heroics, duty and service.
- ‘What do you think on the launch pad?’ ” Glenn was asked in a 1998 CNN interview. His answer: “How do you think you’d feel if you knew you were on top of 2 million parts built by the lowest bidder on a government contract? “ ↩
- Gregg Penmanship was inflicted on WC. There were letters above the blackboard, with little arrows telling you which way to draw the characters. But for anyone left-handed, the arrows, of course, went the wrong way. A southpaw’s choices were to either awkwardly bring your left hand around in a circle, sharply bent at the wrist, so the damn arrows were right. Or invent your own way of writing. WC chose the pioneer approach and his dreadful penmanship reflected it. ↩