LONDON LETTER: Passing of the real heroes

John Glenn, one of the last all-American heroes, died at the end of 2016, and it was a rather ironic twist for a year that was not particularly heroic for America.

Not only was their commander-in-chief, who will go down in history as a nice guy but ineffectual president, consistently out-manoeuvred by events, but the rest of the planet was treated to one of the most unedifying elections ever held in the free world.

I watched stunned as the losing candidate’s supporters went on city-trashing sprees in the name of democracy – without censure from either Hillary Clinton or the so-called impartial mainstream media.

However, John Glenn’s death was a mere footnote to the passing of the hipsters’ real heroes last year, such as George Michael or David Bowie.

I mean, how can Glenn’s feats of being a fighter-pilot in the 1940s, a test pilot in the 1950s and an astronaut in the 1960s compare to Bowie’s fantasy of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars?

The biggest irony is that the man who wrote a ballad about Ground Control calling Major Tom got a gazillion more obituaries than a real-life Major Tom.

Just a sign of the times.

Anyway, in 1962 Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth, and you cannot overestimate what that epic voyage did to the psyche of a beleaguered nation.

He was not the first man to be sent into orbit; that honour fell to the Russian Yuri Gagarin. But at the time the

American space programme was a bit of a joke with rockets exploding and monkeys being used as guinea pig astronauts.

Then John Glenn stepped up to the plate… and the rest is history.

Giant steps

Incredibly, it took a mere 59 years from the moment Orville Wright bumped off the ground in the first powered flight lasting all of 15 seconds, to Glenn rocketing into orbit. This culminated in Neil Armstrong taking ‘one giant step for mankind’ on the moon in 1969.

Since then, 48 years have passed. And what has happened to space exploration? Not much if you discount the odd unmanned expedition to Mars or Branson’s tentative forays into galactic tourism.

You can, of course, argue that we don’t need to go to the moon anymore. A case of already having that particular T-shirt.

Maybe, but even if we wanted to, I believe humankind lacks the sheer guts and zeal that those early expeditions had.

There are no equivalents of President Kennedy or Neil Armstrong… and no longer John Glenn.

The second man on the moon, Buzz Aldrin, is still alive but sadly in bad shape. When he goes, the breed that author

Tom Wolfe dubbed ‘The Right Stuff’ will be no more.

It’s a sombre thought. To me, American writer John Derbyshire sums it up perfectly: ‘Gone with them will be the memory of a USA that could accomplish such marvels… before we turned our energies to guilt and rancour and divisive social crusades.’

After blasting off into space, Glenn switched to politics and was a Democratic Party senator for 24 years – the same party as Hillary Clinton. He lived to see her shock defeat to Donald Trump last November.

He was admired on both sides of the political divide, yet I cannot help but wonder what he must have thought of the spite so prevalent in modern politics.

How he must have shaken his head at the ludicrous claims his own President has made that the Russians – whom Glenn’s Right Stuff brethren bettered in the space race last century – have now ‘stolen’ the American election.

I also cannot help but wonder what he thought of his party’s supporters showing what mean-spirited losers they are.

But above all, I wonder what he made of the fact that there seems to be no one to replace wizened old warriors like himself; that the new breed of heroes are little more than media-created, politically correct celebs.

A fitting epitaph for Glenn would be the blurb for the Star Trek series: ‘To go boldly where no man has gone before’.
But if you said that today, in PC-speak you would be referring to transgender toilets.

Graham Spence

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