Astronaut John Glenn was the first American in space.
John Glenn was a larger than life American hero. On February 20, 1962, he became the first American to orbit the earth as he blasted off on Friendship 7. For his efforts, he received the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. John Glenn was also a senator, serving for the state of Ohio from 1974 to 1999. Senator Glenn also became the oldest man in space and only sitting senator to fly in space when he flew aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1998.
What makes Senator Glenn impressive was not just his contributions to our Nation’s space program. He was also a US Marine. Glenn served 23 years on active duty, including his time with NASA.
Back in 1974, Glenn was running for the US Senate. During a primary debate, he had a testy exchange with a man named Howard Metzenbaum. Metzenbaum asked Glenn in a debate, “How can you run for Senate when you’ve never held a ‘job’?”
Glenn’s reply was epic:
Glenn: “I served 23 years in the United States Marine Corps. I was through two wars. I flew 149 missions.My plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire on 12 different occasions.
“I was in the space program. It wasn’t my checkbook, it was my life that was on the line. This was not a 9-to-5 job where I took time off to take the daily cash receipts to the bank.
“I ask you to go with me, as I went the other day to a Veterans Hospital, and look those men with their mangled bodies in the eye and tell them they didn’t hold a job.
“You go with me to any Gold Star mother, and you look her in the eye and tell her that her son did not hold a job.
“You go with me to the space program, and you go as I have gone to the widows and the orphans of Ed White and Gus Grissom and Roger Chaffee, and you look those kids in the eye and tell them that their dad didn’t hold a job.
“You go with me on Memorial Day coming up, and you stand on Arlington National Cemetery — where I have more friends than I like to remember — and you watch those waving flags, and you stand there, and you think about this nation, and you tell me that those people didn’t have a job.
“I tell you, Howard Metzenbaum, you should be on your knees every day of your life thanking God that there were some men — SOME MEN — who held a job. And they required a dedication to purpose and a love of country and a dedication to duty that was more important than life itself.
“And their self-sacrifice is what has made this country possible.
“I HAVE HELD A JOB, HOWARD!”
Speech memorialized by Gunny Walgren
Glenn’s speech received a resurgence in 2010 when Gunny Walgren retold the story (with a few added choice words–NSFW). It’s worth a listen.
Semper Fi, Senator Glenn. Godspeed!
*Recounting of speech shared from Snopes.