It was an exceptionally clear October afternoon in Florida and I thought, “Why not? It’s possible,” as I headed for a north-facing window in my Fort Lauderdale condominium. I felt a rush of adrenaline as mission control counted down, “five, four, three, two, one, booster ignition and liftoff of Discovery with a crew of six astronaut heroes and one American legend.”
Liftoff! About 41 suspenseful seconds later, I saw it—a thrilling glimpse of John Glenn streaking through the sky and leaving earth behind as he rocketed into the history books for the second time. From 140 miles away, Discovery lit up the sky like a comet trailing a wake of fire. “Godspeed, John Glenn,” I said aloud, as I wiped away a tear, completely surprised by my emotions.
Eighteen years later, the memory of that moment flooded me with renewed emotion as I joined roughly 2,500 people yesterday at Ohio State’s Mershon Auditorium for a memorial tribute. Speakers included Vice President Joe Biden, the head of NASA, and Glenn’s children. Biden choked up as he spoke lovingly of his friend, saying he “stole America’s heart.” For him, Biden said, life was a “glorious adventure.”
The accolades and adjectives were abundant, if inadequate, and the music was gorgeous and well-chosen. Sometimes music says things better than we can with words. Most of it was tender, eloquent, joyous, and uplifting. Except for taps. That one was just gut-wrenchingly sad.