For John Glenn, wife Annie was the hero
Saturday, December 24, 2016 5:00 AM
By Byron McNutt
American icon John H. Glenn Jr. truly had The Right Stuff. Author Tom Wolfe said Glenn was “the last true national hero America has ever had.” The small town legend represented “God and flag and motherhood and patriotism.”
He was a war hero, a Marine fighter pilot, a record-setting test pilot, the first human to orbit Earth and he served in the U.S. Senate from Ohio for 24 years. Glenn, 95, died on Dec. 8 at the James Cancer Hospital in Columbus.
I was 11 when Glenn climbed aboard Friendship 7 on Feb. 20, 1962 and orbited the planet three times during a heart-stopping journey that lasted four hours, 55 minutes and 23 seconds. As were millions of Americans, I was fascinated by the Mercury space program.
I sent letters to NASA asking for information about the Mercury program and the seven original astronauts. Being from Ohio, Glenn was the favorite. The NASA public relations program responded by sending me a package with 8x10 black and white photos and bios of the astronauts.
I was editor of the Mercer County Chronicle, a small weekly newspaper in Coldwater, Ohio, in the early 1970s when in 1974, Glenn, a Democrat, defeated incumbent U.S. Senator Howard Metzenbaum in the primary and Republican Ralph Perk in the general election. That began his 24-year career in the Senate.
While I don’t think I ever met John Glenn, I did get to speak to his wife Annie, and their daughter Lyn (Carolyn) while they were campaigning. Following is a story often told (many online sources) about the bond between John and Annie Glenn. I don’t know who originally wrote it, but it reads like a Paul Harvey piece.
John Glenn is America’s “unforgettable hero” but to John, his wife Annie was the one who displayed endless courage of a different kind. Annie, now 96, was married to John for 73 years. Their parents were friends in New Concord, Ohio. and when the families got together, the children played. As they grew up, John was an athlete and the most admired boy in town. Annie was bright, caring, talented and generous of spirit.
But Annie could talk only with the most excruciating of difficulty. Her stuttering was so severe that it was categorized as an 85% disability--85% of the time. She could not manage to make words come out. She was laughed at and teased. She was not able to speak on the telephone or have a regular conversation with a friend.
But John Glenn loved her. Even as a boy, he was wise enough to understand that people who could not see past her stutter were missing out on knowing a rare and wonderful girl. They married on April 6, 1943.
As a military wife, Annie found that life as she and John moved around the country could be quite hurtful. The painful experiences included ridicule. It was difficult to shop because she was embarrassed to ask for help. She had to write addresses down for taxi drivers and had to point to items on the menu at restaurants.
She was a fine musician. In every community where they moved she would play the organ in church as a way to make new friends. John and Annie have two children, John David and Lyn (Carolyn) and she worried that if either got injured she wouldn’t be able to call on the phone for help.
John flew 59 combat missions in WWII and 90 during the Korean War. He had a very dangerous job. Every time he was deployed, he and Annie said goodbye the same way. His last words to her before leaving were: “I’m just going down to the corner store to get a pack of gum.” She was only able to reply: “Don’t be long.”
On that historic day in February 1962, it was no different. And in 1998, when he was 77, Glenn went back to space aboard the shuttle Discovery. This time it was a little different. Before boarding the shuttle, Glenn gave Annie a present: a pack of gum to hold onto. She carried it in a pocket next to her heart until he was safely home ... nine days and 134 orbits later.
Many times in her life she attempted various treatments to cure her stutter. None worked. But in 1973, she found a doctor in Virginia who had an intensive program that might help. The miracle she and John had always waited for had finally arrived.
At age 53, she was able to talk fluidly, and not in brief, anxiety-ridden, agonizing bursts. John has said that on the first day he heard her speak to him with confidence and clarity, he dropped to his knees to offer a prayer of gratitude.
“I saw Annie’s perseverance and strength through the years and it just made me admire her and love her even more.” He has heard roaring ovations in countries around the globe for his own valor, but his awe is reserved for Annie, and what she accomplished.
Her voice is so clear and steady now that she regularly gives public talks. If you were lucky enough to know the Glenns, the sight and sound of them bantering and joking with each other and playfully finishing each others’ sentences is something that warms you.
If you ever found yourself at an event where the Glenns were appearing, and you wanted to see someone so brimming with pride and love that you may feel your own tears start to well up, it was the moment that Annie stood to say a few words to the audience.
And as she began her comments, you just had to look at her husband’s eyes.