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John Glenn laid to rest at Arlington

The Astronaut and Ohio senator died in December

By JESSICA WEHRMAN The Columbus Dispatch Published: April 7, 2017 4:00 AM
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ARLINGTON, Va. -- Former Sen. John Glenn now rests in the same earth that he once marveled at from a tiny window inside the Friendship 7 in 1962.

Glenn, who died December 8 at 95, was interred at Arlington National Cemetery Thursday in a small private ceremony with family and close friends, months after thousands visited him as he laid in state in the Ohio Capitol.

On a rain-drenched spring day with the trees beginning to bloom, a horse-drawn caisson carried Glenn's flag-draped casket through the hushed cemetery, passing row after row of tombstones. The loudest sounds were of horses' feet and the rain falling.

A scattering of tourists stood by watching, huddled under umbrellas, as the caisson passed. Finally, the caisson, escorted by Marines, reached its destination. Six Marines carefully carried Glenn's casket to the place where he will rest, then slowly, deliberately, folded the flag atop that casket. Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller gave the flag to Glenn's wife Annie, who gently put her hand on his shoulder and planted a gentle kiss on the commandant's face after he murmured words of condolence.

Thursday would have been the Glenns' 74th wedding anniversary.

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Glenn, a New Concord native, was a 40-year-old test pilot when he climbed into Friendship 7, a cramped capsule, and flew to his history-making orbit around the earth. He later served four terms as a U.S. senator, then returned to space in 1998, becoming at 77 the oldest person ever to go to space.

Thursday, he was afforded the pomp and ceremony of an American hero: NASA livestreamed his funeral, and students from Ohio were among those watching the stream.

Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot said Glenn "was more than an astronaut he was the hero we needed in a rapidly changing world and an icon of our American spirit.

"We will never forget him, and future generations will continue to live out his legacy as we venture farther into the solar system," he said.

And Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Jefferson Township, said she was "proud to salute his invaluable service to our nation and lucky to have called him a friend."

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In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich ordered flags be flown at half-staff Thursday and President Donald Trump ordered them to be flown at half-staff at federal buildings.

Among those who attended the ceremony were Sen. Rob Portman and Sen. Sherrod Brown. Portman called the ceremony "a beautiful final tribute to a true American hero."

Portman said during a small ceremony at the Old Post Chapel prior to Glenn's graveside service, Neller, the commandant of the Marine Corps talked at length about Glenn's bombing missions in World War II as well as his service in the Korean War.

"You forget sometimes about the extent of his military career," Portman said, marveling at the length of Glenn's public service. Glenn requested that he be buried in his Marine "greens."

The ceremony featured the U.S. Navy Band Sea Chanters quartet, which sang "Amazing Grace," and "The Lord's Prayer."

At the conclusion of the church service, he said, a bugle played "Taps," before launching into the "Reveille," the traditional tune played to wake up the troops.

That was at Glenn's request. "According to (Glenn's daughter) Lyn, that request of his signaled that he believed in life ever after, and that he wanted his service to end on an upbeat note," said Portman, who said it was "a beautiful moment" with "the joyous reminder that.he believed he was going to a better place."

Connie Schultz, a writer who is married to Sen. Sherrod Brown, said the choice was "so like John."

"He was such a curious man, such an optimist," she said. "He would greet the ending of his life which he knew was coming with that optimism. He couldn't wait to see what would come next."

His honorary pallbearers were his fellow astronauts, many in their 70s and 80s.

"He was a hero long before he orbited the earth," Portman said. "But when he orbited the earth, he became an American icon."


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