Sunday, December 11, 2016
Remembering a Chance Encounter
by Dee Newman
Located a little more than an hour’s drive northwest of Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center, NAS Sanford was home to ten RA-5C Vigilante squadrons. Eight of those squadrons saw extensive action during carrier air wing operations in the South China Sea throughout the Vietnam War.
Those months I spent away from my new bride were not easy. The few opportunities I received to fly to Memphis and see her, were readily taken, but always on a commercial military stand-by ticket. On one occasion, while waiting at the Atlanta Airport to catch a flight to Memphis, a woman and her daughter struck up a conversation with me. Since my left arm was in a sling, they were wondering if I had been wounded in Viet Nam.
As I was explaining to them that I was actually injured while playing flag-football, I suddenly realized who the man was sitting directly across the aisle from us. He had been engaged for some time in a conversation with a young attractive teenage girl. When I asked the woman and her daughter if they knew who he was, they both replied, “no.”
“That’s the astronaut, John Glenn,” I told them. Though they were skeptical, they encouraged me to go introduce myself.
Several minutes later, I was shaking hands with the first American astronaut to orbit the earth. He, too, thought I had been injured in Viet Nam.
As we talked, the eyes of the young teenage girl with whom he had been conversing began to enlarge with astonished disbelief. She had no idea who she had been talking with all that time. When I turned to walk back to my seat, a line of people had formed behind me to get his autograph. I’ve always felt a little guilty for exposing his identity.
Last Thursday, John Glenn died at the age of ninety-five. Of all the many renowned and celebrated people I’ve met during my seventy-two years on this planet, John Glenn stands-out. He spent a lifetime breaking barriers. He wasn’t just one of the “Mercury Seven” military test pilots selected by NASA in 1959 to become America's first astronauts, before that he was a distinguished and decorated Marian Corps fighter pilot in both World War II and Korea, receiving six Distinguish Flying Medals and eighteen clusters to the Air Medal.
He was truly an American hero who inspired us with his courage, integrity, sacrifice, and achievements, putting his life on the line in service to his country too many times to count. He also served his country as a six term United States Senator from Ohio (1974 to 1999). In 1998, at the age of seventy-seven, he became the oldest person to go into space as a Payload Specialist on the shuttle Discovery.
Godspeed, John Glenn. Godspeed.