Many years ago – during the summer I was 18 – I was an intern in Senator John Glenn’s office. There were about 20 high school-and college-age interns serving in Senator Glenn’s Washington office, all of us honored to work for such a good man and all of us from Ohio. It was a wonderful summer filled with museums and new friends and the experience of working on Capitol Hill.
The highlight of the intern experience was the “Shadow Day.” This was the day all of the interns looked forward to – when you got to “shadow” the Senator for most of the day. Of course, sometimes interns were asked to wait in the lobby while certain meetings were held, but that didn’t matter. It was a great day, and Senator Glenn always spent a few minutes showing the starry-eyed interns around his office filled with memorabilia from his days as an astronaut.
So…on my day I went to a Committee Hearing and joined a meeting the Senator held with Ohio constituents. All good. Until Senator Glenn asked me to get him a cup of tea. Should be a simple request, right? But not so much. I had never made a cup of tea. My parents didn’t drink it, and I didn’t know anyone else who did. We drank Pepsi – it’s big in Ohio. There was a kitchen near his office and I went in thinking “how hard can this be?” I proceeded to get a mug, find the tea bag, cut it open, pour the tea into the water, wonder why anyone would drink hot water with little dark flakes floating on top, and brought it to Senator Glenn.
The first Amerian to orbit the earth laughed. He laughed hard. I nervously picked up the cup, apologized, and offered to go find assistance. But no. He wanted to show a couple of people on his staff. I still don’t drink tea, but I now know not to cut the bag open!
On February 20, 1962, nearly 50 years ago, John Glenn stepped into the Friendship 7 to orbit the earth. Glenn was also the oldest American to fly in space when he got back in a rocket at the age of 77.
For kids who want to learn more about the fighter pilot who became an astronaut and then a U.S. Senator, they should read: Liftoff: A Photobiography of John Glenn, a 2006 biography by Don Mitchell. It’s an engaging and inspiring book that tells the story of Glenn’s life from his boyhood in small town Ohio to his career in the military before being selected as one of the original astronauts.
Late note – the day after I wrote this post, there was a long article about John Glenn in the New York Times. Here’s the link: