John Herschel Glenn, Jr., born in Cambridge, Ohio, on 18 July 1921, attended primary and secondary schools in New Concord, Ohio, followed by Muskingum College in New Concord (1939). During his junior year, he enlisted in the Naval Reserve (28 March 1942), for training as a Naval Aviation Cadet. He was assigned to active duty (28 May) and transferred to the Naval Aviation Pre-Flight School, Iowa City, Iowa. Glenn was designated an Aviation Cadet (4 August), and completed primary flight training at Olathe, Kansas (23 August–17 November). Two days later, he commenced additional naval air training at Corpus Christi, Texas, where, on completing flight training (30 March 1943), his enlistment in the Naval Reserve was terminated so that he could accept a commission as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps and be designated a Naval Aviator.
He sailed to the Pacific (February 1944) and subsequently joined Marine Fighter Squadron (VMF) 155, Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 31, Fourth Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW). Glenn eventually flew Vought F4U-1D Corsairs in the Marshall Islands, and completed a total of 59 combat missions during World War II. Returning to the United States (February 1945), he served with the 9th Marine Aircraft Wing at Cherry Point, N.C., and then at Patuxent River, Md., and El Toro, Calif. (March–December 1946). He next departed the United States for two year’s duty with VMF-218, MAG-24, First MAW. This tour included service on the North China patrol during the Chinese Civil War, and then a deployment to Guam. Glenn returned home as a flight instructor and then an instrument flight instructor, both at Corpus Christi, Texas (January 1949–June 1951). He completed the Junior Course at Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, Va. (July–November 1951), and then served as Assistant G-2/G-3 (Intelligence/Operations). He completed the Jet Refresher Course at Cherry Point (November 1952–January 1953).
Glenn flew 63 missions with VMF-311, MAG-33, during the Korean War (February–May 1953). He then flew an additional 27 missions as an exchange pilot with the 25th Fighter Squadron, 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing, Fifth Air Force. During the final nine days of fighting in the war, Glenn flew a North American F-86H Sabre and downed three enemy Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 Fagots over the Yalu River (12, 19, and 22 July 1953). He concluded his deployment to the Korean War in December.
Following the Korean War, Glenn attended Test Pilot School at Patuxent River (January–July 1954). After graduation, he became the project officer on a number of aircraft including Vought F8U-1 (F-8A) and F8U-P (RF-8A) Crusaders at the Armament Test Division, Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River. He was then assigned to the Fighter Design Branch of the Bureau of Aeronautics (Naval Air Systems Command: NavAir) in Washington, D.C. (November 1956–April 1959), during which time he also attended the University of Maryland. Glenn broke the transcontinental speed record with a crossing in three hours, 22 minutes, 50.05 seconds at an average speed of 723.517 mph in an F8U-1P (BuNo 144608), from Los Alamitos, Calif., to Floyd Bennett Field, N.Y. (16 July 1957). His achievement marked the first upper atmosphere supersonic flight from the west coast to the east coast.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced the selection of seven prospective astronauts, including Glenn, to Project Mercury, a basic program in the development of space exploration and manned orbital flight (7 April 1959). Glenn was assigned to the NASA Space Task Group at Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va. NASA announced the selection of Glenn and two other astronauts: Cmdr. Alan B. Shepard, Jr., USN, and Capt. Virgil I. Grissom, USAF, to begin special training for the first manned Mercury flight (21 February 1961). The agency then (29 November) selected Glenn as the astronaut for the first manned orbital flight, and Lt. Cmdr. M. Scott Carpenter, USN, as his backup pilot.
Glenn manned space capsule Friendship 7 during the launch of Mercury-Atlas-6 from Cape Canaveral, Fla. (20 February 1962). The mission’s three turns about the earth became the first U.S. manned orbital flights and accomplished the basic goals of Project Mercury, putting an astronaut into orbit, determining his ability to perform various functions during space flight, and obtaining physiological data concerning Glenn’s reactions to the stresses encountered. During the second and third orbits, Glenn controlled the capsule through the autopilot when the automatic controls broke down just after the end of the first orbit. Destroyer Noa (DD-841) recovered Glenn and Friendship 7 about 21 minutes following splash down, approximately 800 miles southeast of Bermuda (21°26'N, 68°41'W). Aircraft No. 46, a Piasecki HUP-3 Retriever of Helicopter Utility Squadron (HU) 2 Detachment 36, delivered Glenn to antisubmarine warfare support aircraft carrier Randolph (CVS-15) at 1504, and then a Grumman S2F-3 Tracker from Antisubmarine Squadron (VS) 26 flew the astronaut to Grand Turk Island in the Bahamas. Additional ships that supported the epochal event included attack aircraft carriers Enterprise (CVAN-65) and Forrestal (CVA-59) in the Atlantic, and Antietam (CVS-6) in the Pacific. Glenn participated with his fellow astronauts in a ticker-tape parade in New York City (1 March), and he then (9 March) received his astronaut wings at the Pentagon.
The Space Task Group shifted to Houston, Texas, and became part of the NASA Manned Spacecraft Center (summer 1962). When astronauts were subsequently given special assignments to ensure pilot input into the design and development of spacecraft, Glenn specialized in cockpit layout and control functioning, including some of the early designs for Project Apollo. Glenn resigned from the Manned Spacecraft Center (16 January 1964), and retired from the Marine Corps (effective on 1 March 1964), in order to enter the Democratic senatorial race in his home state of Ohio. Pending his retirement, he served at the Marine Corps Recruiting Station at Houston.
He suffered an inner ear injury during a fall in his home (26 February 1964), which necessitated a postponement of his retirement and a withdrawal from the senatorial race. Lt. Col. Glenn subsequently wrote the Commandant of the Marine Corps and asked that the 1964 Colonel’s Selection Board not consider him for promotion to full colonel because of his intention to retire when physically fit. The Secretary of the Navy and Commandant announced (29 September 1964) that he was being nominated for full colonel despite his letter, to recognize “his many accomplishments while in the service of his country.” President Lyndon B. Johnson therefore promoted Glenn to colonel during a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, noting that he consulted with Congress on the matter, and “we were unanimous in believing that we should not be deprived of doing what we think is right.” Glenn worked as a business executive until his election to the United States Senate (November 1974–January 1999).
He served as a payload specialist in space shuttle STS-120 Discovery when she launched from John F. Kennedy Space Center, Fla. (29 October–7 November 1998). During that mission, the crew supported a variety of research payloads including the Hubble Space Telescope Orbital Systems Test Platform, deployment of the Spartan solar-observing spacecraft, and investigations on space flight and the aging process. The mission orbited the Earth 134 times, traveling 3.6 million miles (213 hours and 44 minutes).
Glenn’s decorations include six awards of the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with 18 Clusters, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, and the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. He has also received honorary doctoral degrees from nine colleges or universities.
John Glenn (T-MLP 2) was laid down on 4 December 2012 at San Diego, Calif., by General Dynamics National Steel and Shipbuilding Co.; sponsored by Miss Lynn Glenn, daughter of the astronaut; and is scheduled to be placed in service on 30 March 2014.
The Military Sealift Command will operate John Glenn as a seagoing pier for allied forces in the event that enemy forces or natural disasters prevent access to onshore bases. The ship will then be able to support Marines or soldiers deployed ashore.
Detailed history under construction.
Last Reviewed: 11/18/13
Mark L. Evans