God Speed, John Glenn by
(361 Stories)

Prompted By Broadcast News

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Being a somewhat sickly kid, I had been out with the flu the day my class took the Iowa Achievement Test in 4th grade, so on February 20, 1962, along with all the others from my Detroit elementary school who had missed that test, I sat in the small, upstairs art room all afternoon taking the make-up test. I don’t remember who the proctor was who monitored the test. Perhaps it was the art teacher, Miss VanAntwerp. She was a legendary, well-liked teacher at the school. She ended her class by saying in a booming voice, “STOP! Don’t move…don’t even breathe!” Then we knew it was time to end our art project and clean up our space. She would have been an excellent monitor.

But this afternoon was different. We all knew John Glenn was making a historic space flight and throughout the afternoon, our principal interrupted our endeavors by coming on the PA system with updates on the progress of his flight. We broke off whatever we worked on and sat in rapt attention to the short announcement. The proctor stopped her watch for that moment before we got back to our test. John Glenn was doing fine (we were not told of the broken heat shield) and on track to make history. We knew he had completed his mission before our 3pm dismissal bell! We were elated.

My parents watched the Huntley-Brinkley Report on NBC every night after dinner during my years at home. The program went off the air on July 31, 1970, just as I was about to go off to college. They then switched allegiance to CBS and Walter Cronkite. I’ve watched CBS ever since.

Even now, we watch the news on CBS, both national and local. We do not watch any cable TV, regardless of our political leanings (which anyone who has read my writing knows is very liberal). Dan can barely bring himself to consume any news these past years since November, 2016. I devour it, but mostly in print.

It was a fluke that I tuned into CNN on January 6, 2020 just to check on the Georgia special elections from the previous day. I watched the horrors of that day play out in real time. I was glued to my TV, even as I am to the hearings being broadcast now as we find out what led to that miserable day. I hope ALL the participants, including TFG, get justice.

There are several news events that stick in my mind forever, but the John Glenn space flight is the first that I can recall and I knew exactly where I was and what I was doing. I was 9 years old. I even had an opportunity to meet him many decades later when he received an honorary degree from Brandeis. At least I could shake his hand.

God speed, John Glenn.


Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    Great memory, Betsy — and one I share, too, having been kept informed of it when in school over the PA system. It is so quaint to think that the idea of a television — let alone a computer or cell phone screen — in a classroom in 1962 was unthinkable.

    And, conversely, for better and worse, we all got to watch what was happening on 1/6/20 in real time. (I was having my car serviced that morning so watched the first part, in shock, in the waiting room of the car dealership.)

    More happily, so glad you got to meet John Glenn. To me, the most amazing part of his flight I only learned many years later when watching a special on the early days of the space program. They played an audio tape of his heart beat (monitored in Houston) during take-off. Even though he was sitting on top of the equivalent of megatons of dynamite and about to be the first American rocketed into earth orbit, his heart beat remained the equivalent of a man sitting in an easy chair in his den. Talk about a cool customer!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      No TVs in classes back then, John. There was one in our school (which was K-8, so a large school) and it was in the auditorium, so it could be wheeled onto the stage for large events.

      I remember (from “The Right Stuff”) that Glenn’s heart beat was so calm; in the movie he’s depicted as taking a little nap. Perhaps that’s hyperbole, but got the message across. He had great discipline.

  2. Marian says:

    What a super memory, Betsy. I do remember watching (maybe later) parts of that famous flight, although definitely not in school. On January 6, I would normally have been doing client work, but for some reason the word got out quickly that morning here in California, and Dick and I went to the TV right away. Never heard a peep from clients, who also stopped working.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      While I wasn’t actually watching John Glenn’s flight, I was following along! January 6th, however, is imprinted forever! I hope the House Committee and the DOJ really gets to the bottom of the whole mess.

  3. Wonderful that you remember that historic day Betsy, and wonderful that years later you got to shake John Glenn’s hand!

  4. Susan Bennet says:

    “God Speed John Glenn”– thank you for bringing back this memory, Betsy.
    We were lucky to be kids as the U.S. lifted off to space. Does anything today equal the awe we felt then?!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      The Mercury 7, Gemini and Apollo programs had everyone wanting to grow up to be an astronaut, right Susan? Though we women had to wait decades for Sally Ride to come along, still that first decade was thrilling! Doesn’t everyone remember where she was when Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon (that anniversary is July 20).

      It doesn’t compare, but I did suck in my breath when I saw those images from the Webb telescope last week. They were awesome, if abstract.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    He was a good man from an era that produced reasonable politicians on both sides of the aisle. Thanks for reminding me of this moment.

  6. Suzy says:

    Thank you for writing about the first news story you remember! That was what I intended this prompt to be about, but it wandered away from that question somehow. Love your story about John Glenn’s flight, and glad that you got to meet him at Brandeis.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      A friend who replied to my email list reminded me that the FIRST story (perhaps many of us remember) was watching JFK’s inauguration during my lunch hour in 1961, but I didn’t think of that (and I already wrote about it for the “inauguration” prompt). This one was only 13 months later and really stuck with me for obvious reasons. Glad it resonated for you. I think my opinion of him was based largely on the book and movie “The Right Stuff”, but that was great, so it was an honor to meet him.

  7. I was about to graduate high school when Glenn orbited the planet. I recall being aware (somehow) that the heat shield might have loosened and that they improvised protection using a retro rocket. As for January 6, I also stumbled across the live coverage — I was watching the certification — before anyone knew the scope and scale of the attack. Loved the historical fragments you chose!

  8. Nice story, Betsy. You summon an orbit of memories, John Glenn in space, art projects, art teachers, make-up tests. I’m glad you got to meet Glenn in person.

  9. What a great reminder of the excitement we felt with NASA and the space program! The whole NASA program is kind of ho hum to my grandchildren. My first memory was of Alan Shepard as the first American in space . He just went up into the heavens and come down safely. Not as exciting as John Glenn in orbit, but because of the competition with the Soviets, my classmates were cheering when the announcement was made in the auditorium of his safe return.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I also remember Alan Shepard’s ascent, but not as vividly as the John Glenn flight because of my particular circumstances, being sequestered all day. And today is the anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s 1969 moon landing and first steps – a huge deal. You are right, nothing with NASA felt as monumental after those accomplishments.

  10. Khati Hendry says:

    Thanks for those first space memories–indeed we were all glued to the play-by-play of the early explorations. You probably also remember when they sent back the first pictures of the earth from space, that blue-green marble of wonder floating in the black of space. Still so precious, but so endangered.

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