Assuming that many of you are quite aware of the late John Glenn’s many feats as an astronaut, Marine pilot and long service as an Ohio Democratic senator from a small town in Central Ohio, I’ve decided to forego repeating them from my own memories of a modest quiet-spoken good man. Indeed, his Boy Scoutish character is the antipathetic contrast to Donald Trump, the insufferable Monster-in-Chief of today’s ugly political culture.
I was a political writer and he was a politician, which suggests a separation of, say, church and state.
But as I grew to know him one on one, I unapologetically admit that our relationship extended beyond business as usual. We were friends.
On my first visit to the Glenns’ modest home that he shared with his remarkably gracious wife, Annie, in New Concord, he greeted me at roadside as I handed him a loaf of cranberry bread made by my wife Nancy. He loved cranberry bread and reacted with brimming surprise when I handed it to him. As we entered their home, he shouted , “Hey, Annie, Zabe Aidan brought us cranberry bread!” She happily offered coffee.
About Zabe Aidan. It was his gentle humor that led him to that name and he referred to it regularly to amuse me as well as himself. Sort of corny, I know, but this also was the war hero who shot down Migs on 149 combat missions and later daringly orbited the earth. I forever expected something else than down-home corny humor. A hot-rod,he wasn’t.
The first thing you noticed in the living room was a model of the iconic bronze sculpture of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima. “Wow!” I exclaimed. Was this a replica of the life-size bronze Marine Corps Memorial near Arlington National Cemetery?
No, Glenn replied matter of factly. ”It’s the original. I don’t know why it was given to me. I will give it to the Smithsonian.”
I followed him up a ladder to a loft that was an absolute mess. We stepped over many of the items sent to him from a world of admirers after his successful orbit, including copies of newspapers and magazines that recorded his orbital adventure. Again, matter of factly, “I should get somebody up here to catalog all of this and get it in order,” Glenn said, with a hint of impatience with himself for not taking care of it sooner.
I enjoyed the casual conversation, cranberry bread and coffee.
We agreed to try it again.
* * * * *
The gentle home-style visit with the hospitable couple was far removed from the headlines and splashy trail of vibrant acclaim that contrasted with Glenn’s visit to our home in Cuyahoga Falls.
For the occasion, our small dog Charley appeared to be wildly agitated by Glenn, reacting with non-stop barking and spinning. Nancy swore that she had never seen Charley in such a state and wondered whether there was something about Glenn’s mystique that triggered the excitement. The astronaut in him conditioned him to be fully prepared for the unexpected. He didn’t mind the barking at all.
* * * * *
We were returning from some forgotten event in Canton on a wintry flurried night with his press aide, Steve Avakian in the back seat. Glenn was driving and saw the car ahead of us fishtailing and then sliding down an embankment.
“Get some help, Steve,” Glenn yelled as he somehow settled our car on the berm. We left the car and slid across the road and down the embankment, finding the car on its side and a young woman in shock and pinned to the steering wheel.
Calmly, he told her that everything would be OK as we managed to open the door and release her. Fortunately by the time we had completed our mission, Avakian told us help was on the way.
Glenn said nothing as we got back to our car other than “I noticed you belly slammed in the snow to her car. Are you OK?”
“Yep.” And we were ready to blast off to Akron.
* * * * *
The Ohio Democratic leaders at the 1976 Democratic convention had pleaded with him to make a strong display of himself in a way that might impress Jimmy Carter to choose him as vice president. Glenn was not of a mood to satisfy them. He dismissed appeals from them to rise to their occasion. Instead, he vanished from sight. National reporters asked me where he was “hiding”. “Damned if I know,” I replied. The reporters sat around gossiping and fidgeting for a couple of hours.He finally showed up. There were demands to know where he had been. Had he been huddling with Carter?
“No,” Glenn said at a full blown press conference. “Annie and I went shopping.”
Glenn never fully accepted the fact that he was a star political figure held accountable for the fate of the Democratic Party.
I later asked him why he kept rejecting the party’s wishes – as well as those from some national gurus like David Broder who was sure of Glenn’s ascent to the Oval Office. “I have had more attention than any human being deserves,” he replied. “Just as soon leave it at that.”
The massive attention that erupted at death at 95 was evidence that we couldn’t simply leave it at that for the man that his staff reverentially called “The Colonel).
NOTE: My name is…um…Zabe Aidan…and l thank the Colonel for the memories.
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