A day not to be forgotten

I’ve told his story once or twice before, but I couldn’t let this anniversary date pass without telling it again.

As anyone who has visited The Vindicator newsroom knows, the hallway is lined with reprints of historic front pages. The headline on one, dated Feb. 20, 1962, exactly 50 years ago today, reads: “Glenn in Orbit, ‘Feeling Fine’.”

The Vindicator was an afternoon paper then; reporting the 9:47 a.m. lift-off and Col. John H. Glenn Jr.’s initial reaction would have required pushing the deadlines only a bit, even for the early edition.

In 1992, then-Sen. Glenn was scheduled for an editorial board meeting and called from his car to say he was running a bit late. When he arrived, I went down to the lobby to escort him upstairs. As we got in the elevator I mentioned that car phones certainly made campaigning easier in a state the size of Ohio.

What a surprise

As he agreed, he got a gleam in his eye and said he had something to show me. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a folded cellular phone that when opened was about the size of the handset of a desktop phone.

“Just look at this,” he said, “Isn’t it amazing?”

The elevator doors opened and hanging on the opposite wall was that page: “Glenn in Orbit ...”

“Senator, I said, “I have to tell you ... the day that headline was written, I was sitting with a classroom full of high school sophomores, our eyes glued to a black and white television screen, watching your rocket blast off. Standing in the elevator, listening to you talk about the marvels of a hand-held phone ...”

He cocked his head, raised his eyebrows a bit and said, “Well, it is marvelous,” as he folded it and put it in his pocket.

What impressed me then, and has continued to impress me on the few occasions I have had to talk with Sen. Glenn since, was his ability to maintain a sense of wonder about things that others take for granted.

A few explanations

Looked at another way, maybe it’s not so surprising. Perhaps a man who has put on an astronaut’s gear and climbed into a tiny capsule, or in 1998 into the shuttle Discovery, for a trip into space learns not to take anything for granted. Maybe it’s just easier for those of us whose feet have remained on the ground to be jaded. Or perhaps it is that men and women who maintain that sense of wonder are the ones who get to do extraordinary things.

Whatever the explanation, this is a date that will continue to kindle emotions in any boy alive in February 1962. And a day that will be remembered again in 2037 and 2062, when we’re long gone.

Mangan is editorial page editor of The Vindicator.

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