The first American to orbit the earth, John Glenn embodies the spirit of a true aerospace pioneer. Graduating from high school in New Concord, Ohio, in 1939, he enrolled in nearby Muskingum College. There he began his aviation career, learning to fly in a Navy program for civilians at nearby New Philadelphia Airport. Already a licensed pilot when America entered WW II, Glenn entered the Naval Aviation Cadet Program and earned his wings and commission in the USMC in March 1943. He was first assigned to the Pacific Theater flying the F4U Corsair. Participating in the Marshall Islands campaign, he completed 59 missions, during which he helped develop bombing tactics that were used to great advantage later in the war. He returned to the Pacific in 1947, serving 2 years on North China patrol, later flying out of Guam. After the war, Glenn was reassigned to Corpus Christi, Texas, where he served as a flight instructor. When the Korean conflict erupted, he was eager to return to combat. Sent to Korea in February 1953, Glenn flew 90 combat missions. Patrolling “MiG Alley” in F-86 Sabres , he caused something of a stir by claiming three Soviet-built MiG-15 victories in a mere 11 days–an accomplishment exceeded by only one other marine during the entire conflict. After Korea, he experienced a rigorous year at the prestigious Navy Test Pilot School and subsequently worked in the flight test program. He made aviation history when, in July 1957, he completed the first transcontinental flight in the single-engine F8U Crusader. Dubbed “Operation Bullet,” the flight began in Los Angeles, California, and ended over Floyd Bennett Field, New York. It lasted just over 3 hours and 23 minutes and beat the previous official record by 21 minutes. Four-and-a-half years later, he would set an even more spectacular record. Eight days after promotion to lieutenant colonel in April 1959, Glenn was selected as one of America’s first seven Mercury astronauts. After nearly 3 years of exhaustive training and ten postponed launches, Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. He piloted the Mercury space capsule Friendship 7 for three successive earth orbits. This historic 5-hour flight more than accomplished its major objectives of investigating human capabilities in space and testing the spacecraft supporting systems. Colonel Glenn continued working on NASA missions before retiring from the Marine Corps and NASA in 1965. Following a successful business career, he won a US Senate seat in his home state of Ohio in 1974. He continued to serve his country in that position and made significant contributions to aviation and military airpower development.
Colonel Glenn was first selected as an Eagle by Air Command and Staff College’s Gathering of Eagles in 1987 and subsequently honored in 1995.