We have all heard the saying, “Behind every successful man there is a good woman.” This is certainly the case for John Glenn one of America’s most revered and respected heroes. He is a highly decorated veteran in both World War II and the Korean War, and on Feb. 20, 1962, he piloted the Mercury-Atlas 6 “Friendship 7” spacecraft on the first orbital mission of the United States. He would later become a U.S. senator from the state of Ohio. To be sure, almost all Americans with any education, and not still wet behind the ears, know the name John Glenn.
However, I dare say that outside of her native Ohio, not too many of us know the name of Annie Glenn, John’s wife of 68 years at the time of this writing. He is 90 and she just turned 92 years of age. John Glenn and Annie Castor first knew each other when literally they shared a playpen. In Concord, Ohio, his parents and hers were friends. When the families got together, their children played. In school, John was a three-sport varsity athlete, most admired boy in town, Mr. Everything. His later-to-be mate, Annie Castor, was bright, caring, talented and generous of spirit.
What most people may not know is that Annie had a stuttering problem that was so severe that it was categorized as an 85 percent disability – 85 percent of the time she could not 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. But 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 gift.
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.” She was a fine musician, and in every community where they moved she would play the organ in church as a way to make new friends.
Here is something special and unique about this couple: 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 special day in 1962, when the world held its collective breath and the Atlas rocket was about to propel him into space, those were their words once again. Then later on another mission, when he went back into 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.
Over the years she tried various treatments to cure her stutter. None worked. But in 1973, she found a doctor in Virginia who ran an intensive program and John hoped it would help her. It did. At age 53, John heard her speak to him with confidence and clarity. At this point he dropped to his knees to offer a prayer of gratitude. And now you know some of the rest of the story, as I pay tribute to Annie Glenn.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Jim Davidson is a public speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034. To begin a bookcase literacy project visit www.bookcaseforeverychild.com. You won’t go wrong helping a needy child.)