A hero's hero - John and Annie Glenn 
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 at 1:17PM
Deb Boelkes

This article was originally penned by Bob Greene, CNN Contributor in February 2012, on the 50th anniversary of John Glenn's historic flight.

________

 

 John & Annie Glenn - with  Vice President Johnson 1962

 
      For  half a century, the world has applauded John Glenn as  a
heart-stirring American hero.  He lifted the nation's spirits when, as one  of
the original Mercury 7  astronauts, he was blasted alone into orbit  around
the Earth; the enduring  affection for him is so powerful that even  now
people find themselves misting  up at the sight of his face or the sound  of
his voice.
     
         
But for all these years,  Glenn has had a hero of his own, someone  who
he has seen display endless  courage of a different kind:
 
 
     Annie  Glenn.
 
 
     They  have been married for 68 years.
 
 
     He is  92; she turned 93 in February.
 
 
     This  weekend there has been news coverage of the 50th  anniversary of
Glenn's flight into orbit. We  are being reminded that, half a century  down
the line, he remains America's  unforgettable hero.
 
 
     He  has never really bought that.
 
 
      Because the heroism he most cherishes is of a sort  that is seldom
cheered. It belongs to the  person he has known longer than he has  known
anyone else in the  world.
 
 
     John  Glenn and Annie Castor first knew each other when --  literally --
they shared a  playpen.
 
 
     In  New Concord, Ohio, his parents and hers were friends.  When the
families got together, their  children played.
 
 
     John  -- the future Marine fighter pilot, the future  test-pilot ace,
the future astronaut -- was  pure gold from the start. He would end up  having
what it took to rise to the  absolute pinnacle of American regard during  the
space race; imagine what it  meant to be the young John Glenn in the  small
confines of New  Concord.
 
 
      Three-sport varsity athlete, most admired boy in town,  Mr. Everything.
 
 
     Annie  Castor was bright, was caring, was talented, was  generous of
spirit. But she could talk  only with the most excruciating of difficulty.  It
haunted her.
 
 
     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.
 
 
     When  she tried to recite a poem in elementary school, she  was laughed
at. She was not able to speak  on the telephone. She could not have a  regular
conversation with a  friend.
 
 
     And  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, she  found that life
as she and John moved around  the country could be quite hurtful. She  has
written: "I can remember some  very painful experiences -- especially the
ridicule."
 
 
     In  department stores, she would wander unfamiliar aisles  trying to
find the right section,  embarrassed to attempt to ask the salesclerks  for
help. In taxis, she would have  to write requests to the driver, because  she
couldn't speak the destination  out loud. In restaurants, she would point  to
the items on the  menu.
 
 
     A  fine musician, Annie, in every community where she and  John moved,
would play the organ in church  as a way to make new friends. She and John
had two children; she has  written: "Can you imagine living in the  modern
world and being afraid to use  the telephone? 'Hello' used to be so hard  for
me to say. I worried that my  children would be injured and need a  doctor.
Could I somehow find the words  to get the information across on the  phone?"
 
 
     John,  as a Marine aviator, flew 59 combat missions in World  War II and
90 during the Korean War.  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."
 
 
     And,  with just the two of them there, she was able to  always reply:
 
 
      "Don't be long."
 
 
     On  that February day in 1962 when the world held its  breath and the
Atlas rocket was about to  propel him toward space, those were their  words,
once again. And in 1998, when,  at 77, he went back to space aboard the
shuttle Discovery, it was an  understandably tense time for them. What  if
something happened to end  their life together?
 
 
     She  knew what he would say to her before boarding the  shuttle. He
did -- and this time he gave  her a present to hold onto:
 
 
     A  pack of gum.
 
 
     She  carried it in a pocket next to her heart until he was  safely home.
 
 
     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 ran an  intensive
program she and John hoped  would help her. She traveled there to enroll  and
to give it her best effort.  The miracle she and John had always waited  for
at last, as miracles will do,  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.
 
 
     He  has written: "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: "I don't know if I
would have had the  courage."
 
 
     Her  voice is so clear and steady now that she regularly  gives public
talks. If you are lucky enough  to know the Glenn's, the sight and sound  of
them bantering and joking with  each other and playfully finishing each
others' sentences is something  that warms you and makes you thankful just  to
be in the same  room.
 
 
      Monday will be the anniversary of the Mercury space  shot, and once
again people will remember,  and will speak of the heroism of Glenn the
astronaut.
 
 
     But  if you ever find yourself at an event where the  Glenn's are
appearing, and you want to see  someone so brimming with pride and love  that
you may feel your own tears  start to well up, wait until the moment  that
Annie stands to say a few  words to the audience.
 
 
     And  as she begins, take a look at her husband's  eyes.
 

 

 

Article originally appeared on Heartfelt Leadership (http://www.heartfeltleadership.com/).
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