John Glenn, the famous astronaut
For half a century, the world has applauded John Glenn as the American hero who was one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts. But, for all these years, Glenn has had a hero of his own, someone who has displayed endless courage of a different kind – Annie Glenn. They have been married for 68 years and they are both over 90.
Glenn feels that the heroism he most cherishes is seldom cheered. It belongs to the person he has known longer than anyone else in the world, his wife Annie, born Annie Castor. She was bright, caring, talented and generous of spirit, but, she could talk only with the most excruciating difficulty which haunted her. Her stutter was so severe that it was categorized as an 85% disability. Most of the time, she could not manage to make words come out. When she had to recite a poem in elementary school she was laughed at.
She could not speak on the telephone nor have a regular conversation and … John Glenn loved her. Even as a boy he was sufficiently wise to understand that people who could not see past her stutter were missing out on getting to know a rare and wonderful girl. They married on April 6, 1943. As a military wife, she found that life as she and John had to move around the country could be quite hurtful. He wrote; “I can remember some very painful experiences, particularly the ridicule.”
A fine musician, Annie played the organ in church no matter which community they lived in, because she loved it, and also as a way to make new friends. They had two children and he once wrote; “Can you imagine living in the modern world and being afraid to use a telephone? What if she needs to call a doctor for one of the children?”
On that February day in 1962 when the world held its breath and the Atlas rocket was about to propel him toward space, he repeated the same sentence he always did on leaving her; “I am just going to the corner store to buy some gum.” And in 1998, when, at the age of 77, he went back to space aboard the shuttle Discovery, he repeated it again. It was an understandably tense time for them.
Annie had attempted various treatments to cure her stutter but none had worked. In 1973, she found a doctor who ran an intensive program and the miracle she and John had waited for, arrived at last, the way miracles do. At the age of 53, she was able to talk fluidly and not in brief, anxiety-ridden agonizing bursts. John wrote: “I saw Annie’s perseverance and strength throughout the years and it made me admire her and love her even more.” He has heard roaring ovations in countries around the globe for his valor but his awe is reserved for Annie and what she has accomplished. “I don’t know whether I would have had her courage,” he often said. Her voice is so clear now, that she often gives public talks. If you ever find yourself at an event where the Glenn’s are appearing and you want to see someone brimming with pride and love, wait until Annie stands up to say a few words to the audience and take a look at the pride shining from her husband’s eyes. You may feel your own tears start to well up.