By Marcia Dunn
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, said Neil Armstrong dedicated himself to his country and will always be remembered for pioneering the way to the moon.
In a phone interview Saturday with The Associated Press, Glenn said he will miss Armstrong and noted that he was a close friend. The two astronauts — arguably NASA’s most famous — both hailed from Ohio.
Glenn recalled how Armstrong had just 15 to 35 seconds of fuel remaining when he landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, with Buzz Aldrin. He also recounted Armstrong’s illustrious aviation career, including his combat flying in Korea and testing of experimental aircraft. Armstrong had his pilot’s license before his driver’s license, Glenn said.
“When I think of Neil, I think of someone who for our country was dedicated enough to dare greatly,” Glenn said.
Throughout his career as a pilot and astronaut, Armstrong “showed a skill and dedication that was just exemplary,” Glenn said. “I’ll miss him not only for that but just as a close personal friend.”
The 91-year-old Glenn was in Columbus, when he learned of Armstrong’s death at age 82.
Just before the 50th anniversary of Glenn’s orbital flight in February, Armstrong offered high praise to the elder astronaut and said Glenn had told him many times how he wished he, too, had flown to the moon on Apollo 11. While not considering himself an envious person, Glenn said this year that he makes an exception for Armstrong.
Armstrong, ever the gentleman, returned the compliment. In an email, Armstrong wrote: “I am hoping I will be ‘in his shoes’ and have as much success in longevity as he has demonstrated.”
Glenn tossed out the ceremonial first pitch before the Cleveland Indians played the New York Yankees on Sunday.
He wore an Indians jersey with the No. 50, to celebrate the golden anniversary of his historic space flight on Feb. 20, 1962, when he became the first American to orbit the Earth.
“It seems like it was two or three weeks ago,” the 91-year-old Glenn said before delivering an underhanded toss from the mound to Indians coach Sandy Alomar Jr.
Prior to his throw, Glenn asked the crowd for a moment of silence to honor Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, who died Saturday at age 82.
“Neil was a true patriot and American hero,” said Glenn, his wife Annie at his side.
He went on to detail Armstrong’s numerous accomplishments, which included flying combat missions in Korea and becoming a record-setting test pilot before joining the space program.
Glenn said he swelled with pride when Armstrong landed on the moon on July 20, 1969. He said his only regret was that it wasn’t him.
“I told Neil at the time, ‘By nature I’m not a jealous man, but in your case I’ll make an exception.’ “ said Glenn, who went on to become a U.S. Senator in his native Ohio.
Glenn’s baseball heroes when he was young were Hall of Famers Bob Feller and Earl Averill of the Indians as well as Hank Greenberg of the Detroit Tigers.
He said getting paired up as pilots with Hall of Famer Ted Williams was a thrill. Glenn and Williams flew several missions together during the Korean War.
“Ted was a great wing man, though he didn’t like to fly on instruments,” Glenn said. “He took two hits during the war and was lucky to survive.”
Glenn described the time that Williams refused to eject from the cockpit and landed his plane while it was on fire.
“He was a dedicated American and terrific pilot,” Glenn said.