By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders
Hero is a word that is too casually tossed around.
But last week a true American hero and space pioneer passed away at the age of 95. John Glenn was the epitome of humility and courage. He piloted combat missions in World War II and in Korea. He was shot down by enemy fire in 1953 but miraculously survived. He later became one of America’s greatest test pilots. In 1959 he was named as one of the original seven Mercury astronauts selected to fly into space during the earliest stages of space flight when so much was unknown and so much was improvised.
In February 1962 he flew into history becoming the first American to orbit the earth aboard Friendship 7 which was so named by Glenn himself. Having completed three successful orbits of the earth he splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean after a high risk reentry into the earth’s fiery atmosphere and emerged from his tiny space capsule to the greatest acclaim since Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1927. He was greeted by President Kennedy and the nation. He was cheered in a ticker tape parade through lower Manhattan.
I remember that day very well. His motorcade actually took him across the FDR Drive on the way to downtown Manhattan. As a young boy of 11 living in Stuyvesant Town I recall vividly the signs along the route greeting Colonel Glenn. I was mesmerized by the moment and inspired by the man. It was still a time to believe in true heroes and the limitless possibilities of the human spirit when initiative, daring and purpose were all tied together.