With heavy hearts and teary eyes, thousands of people filed through the Ohio Statehouse Friday to say goodbye to John Glenn. The flagged-draped casket, surrounded by a Marine Honor Guard, attracted people from all corners of the state and beyond, including former staff members who worked with Glenn during his 25 years in the US Senate.
Late in the day, Glenn's wife of 73 years, Annie, was wheeled into the rotunda, surrounded by family members.
She sat briefly and talked with Ohio Gov. John Kasich and US Secretary of State John Kerry, who served with Glenn in the Senate.
Kerry, Kasich and Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger each took a turn approaching the casket and spent a moment in silence.
Then Mrs. Glenn approached. She reached out her hand and gently ran it over the flag on the casket several times. She lowered her head in prayer for several minutes, before departing with the family.
Glenn’s body will lie in state for the public at the Ohio Statehouse from noon until 8 p.m. today
SATURDAY: You can watch the memorial to John Glenn live Saturday starting around 2 p.m. on our website
Dale Butland, former Glenn Press Secretary, said the simple surroundings of the Statehouse rotunda, with only a few flowers and a single photo of Glenn, are just what Glenn himself would have wanted. "John was a very humble and modest man. For all of his accolades, for all of his international fame and celebrity, he was pure Ohio. He had a lot of New Concord in him and he never let it go to his head," Butland said.
"He always had a special bond with Dayton," Butland said, "Dayton is linked to flight forever. He returned to it often and he always got a wonderful reception when he was there."
Glenn was born in New Concord, 140 miles east of Dayton along I-70, on July 18, 1921. He first found fame as a test pilot and later as one of the original Mercury astronauts.
Glenn's February 20, 1962 flight aboard "Friendship 7" in which he became the first American to orbit the earth, making him an instant national hero. Steve Maurer, a former Democratic State Senator from Shelby County, remembers watching Glenn's historic space shot on TV. Decades later, Maurer came to work on several issues with Glenn when the astronaut-turned-politician won a seat in the US Senate.
Maurer said politicians and the nation could learn a lot from Glenn, especially when it comes to basic civility. "Certainly if we pay more attention to that, if we as a people would pay more attention.
We all got along much better when I started in politics than what we do today," Maurer said. Maurer was a volunteer for Glenn's ill-fated run for President in 1984 and even traveled to New Hampshire to work on the campaign. "It was really fun and it was really great to work for this Buckeye several states away," Maurer said.
Glenn, a Democrat with a conservative political image, had hoped to challenge Ronald Reagan for the Presidency, but a poor showing in early primaries doomed the campaign. He dropped out even before Ohioans had the chance to vote for him in their own primary election.
It was Glenn's return to space in 1998 that sparked another boost for his status as national hero. At age 77 he orbited the earth 134 times on the space shuttle Discovery for a mission doing scientific research.
That trip, his long political career and the legendary love story with childhood sweetheart, Annie, were displayed on video screens as people waited in the Statehouse atrium, waiting to make their way to the rotunda. Even people who had never met Glenn and had only heard of his contributions to the state were anxious to pass by the casket for a moment.
Our friend John Glenn was a uniquely American hero and one of the finest men Hillary and I have ever known. https://t.co/EjYIfgUFka— Bill Clinton (@billclinton) December 9, 2016
Celia Kilgard, a West Chester native now living in Columbus, wanted to take a moment to express her gratitude for his service. "It is a once-in-a lifetime experience. He did a lot for the state of Ohio and a lot for Ohio State University where I graduated.
It made sense to come over and see him, say goodbye and how important he was for us," Kilgard said. After leaving the Senate in 1999, Glenn was not ready to end his public service. When
The Ohio State University established the John Glenn School of Public Affairs, he spent time with students there discussing politics, government and leadership.
Kilgard appreciated his work at OSU in his final years. "I think he was a great mentor for a lot of people. He obviously gave back and tried to develop the younger generation and that's why a lot of people think he is remarkable," Kilgard said.
Glenn's dedication to serving others came from his small town upbringing, according to Dale Butland, who worked for Glenn for 20 years.
"The other thing is he was famous for a very long time. From the time he was 40 when he made his orbital flight. He handled fame better than anyone I have ever met," Butland said.
The memorial service for Glenn is set for 2pm Saturday at The Ohio State University Mershon Auditorium. Tickets are required in advance and available on the John Glenn School of Public Affairs web site. Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to be among the speakers. Burial will come later at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington.