COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The nation’s vice president and a retired general were among the dignitaries, family members and other mourners who choked up Saturday during a memorial tribute to the late space hero John Glenn.
Roughly 2,500 people gathered at Mershon Auditorium on the Ohio State University campus for “a celebration of life” for the former fighter pilot, history-making astronaut and longtime Democratic U.S. senator from small-town Ohio. He was remembered not only for bravery, but for his thoughtful consideration for others, his integrity and his optimism.
“I think John defined what it meant to be an American,” Vice President Joe Biden said. “The thing I liked most about John was that he knew from his upbringing that ordinary Americans could do extraordinary things.”
Retired USMC Gen. John Dailey said Glenn will be missed, and never forgotten.
“We had John for 95 great years and it still wasn’t enough,” Dailey said.
Glenn died Dec. 8 at age 95. He was the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962, and then in 1998 became the oldest person in space at 77.
Ethel Kennedy, widow of close Glenn ally Robert F. Kennedy, and their son Robert F. Kennedy Jr. were among the mourners present, along with Ohio political leaders including Gov. John Kasich and former Govs. Ted Strickland and Richard Celeste.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden Jr. said the U.S. space program is “standing on John Glenn’s shoulders” with its current mission to Mars.
“It was courage, grace, and humility John displayed throughout his life that lifted him above the stars,” Bolden said. He said Glenn “always represented the best of our American ideals.”
Bagpipes played as Glenn’s flag-draped coffin was brought into the auditorium after a procession from the Ohio Statehouse.
The service was preceded by a musical medley that included hymns, arias and popular songs. Some — including Nat King Cole’s “Smile” and Susan Boyle’s version of “Impossible Dream” — nodded to Glenn’s optimism. Others, including “You Are My Sunshine,” ”Moon River” and Shirley Jones singing “Goodnight, My Someone” — recalled Glenn’s long love affair with wife, Annie, who survives him and attended the services with their children.
Thousands of visitors, including Democratic U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, visited the Ohio Statehouse on Friday to pay their respects as Glenn lay in honor. He will be buried in a private ceremony this spring at Arlington Cemetery near Washington, D.C.