Friday, December 9, 2016

The Right Stuff



I was only four years old when he became famous by orbiting the Earth in Friendship 7. I remember nothing about it. But later in elementary school, I would learn about John Glenn courtesy of a Weekly Reader article. Along with millions of my fellow grade schoolers, I became obsessed with this hero and determined that I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up. Eventually my desire for a career of space travel waned, but my admiration of John Glenn remained. Yesterday came word that the great man had passed away at age 95.

When I was in college, I was introduced to someone who would become one of my favorite writers, Tom Wolfe, by his great novel, The Right Stuff. I read the thing twice. There he was again, front and center. . .John Glenn, hero. He ran for President in 1984. It didn't work out. Accomplished, gallant, heroic, intelligent John Glenn, Marine Fighter pilot in WWII and Korea with 59 combat missions to his credit, insanely brave test pilot, first American to orbit the planet and only then becoming a U.S. Senator, lost to Walter Mondale, a waxy career politician with a history of accomplishing absolutely nothing, proving that politics doesn't reward virtue.

John Glenn was a throwback to what the founders imagined public servants would be. After a life of accomplishment, uncommon valor, and character proven by the crucible of life, a man(or woman) would then proceed to dedicate the last chapters of their lives to serving the republic by going to Washington to bring their proven talents to bear solving the nation's problems. No longer. Now, the preferred path seems to be, go to law school, get a job working as an aid for some congressman for a couple of years, then maybe take a couple more years hacking for some lobbyist so you can check the private sector box off the old resume, then cash in your chips with the party by running for Congress, all before your 35th birthday. The Wrong Stuff.

A few years ago I read a biography of the greatest hitter who ever lived, Ted Williams.  The Splendid Splinter didn't come off well. Although a gifted athlete, Williams was a classic jerk. Even though I knew this about him, it was still disappointing to have it confirmed. But, in the book I learned that when Williams was flying combat missions in Korea, he served as the wing man for. . . John Glenn.

From the time I was a 5th grader until yesterday, John Glenn has never disappointed.