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Marla Ridenour on Sports

More from John Glenn's interview at Progressive Field

By Marla Ridenour Published: August 26, 2012

The Indians honored U.S. Senator John Glenn for him becoming the first man in space 50 years ago. Here's more of what he said during a 20-minute interview in the Progressive Field dugout Sunday.

On his former Marine Corps wingman Ted Williams:

“He was a good pilot. He didn’t like to fly on instruments. It was natural. The reserves at that time had not had as much instrument flight training as the regulars had. When we’d fly in on instruments, he’d tuck it in tight enough that it was affecting my aircraft and I’d tell him to move out a little bit.
“I got to know Ted pretty well. We had a great time. After we came back we kept in touch. When he was sick and got in trouble, we visited him several times in the hospital and at his home in Florida.”

On his love for baseball:

“I haven’t been to a game here for several years. You’ve got to remember, I go back to where the people who were starring for the Indians when I was following them very closely from New Concord before World War II were Bob Feller, Earl Averill, people like that. I used to also follow the Detroit Tigers a little bit. Those were the days they had Hank Greenberg and Mickey Cochran was catcher."

How will history remember you and Neil Armstrong?

“I don’t try to analyze that. They’re probably think about Neil I hope the way I think about Neil. One of the most dedicated Americans you could have. He was proud to represent this country and flying in combat in Korea, which too many people are not even aware of, made some of the greatest flights in the advancement of aircraft aeronautics in several high-speed aircraft, then was in the space program. He’ll always be remembered for that first step on the moon.”

Did you know the importance of your flight when you landed?

“We felt the historic significance. If we didn’t, the excitement of people let us know that pretty quick.
“One of the best decisions made early on in the space program was made by President Eisenhower. He said our program, in contrast to the Soviets, was going to be open, for the whole world to share in it, send your press people over. If we fail, as the Russians said we’d been doing all the time, it will be an open failure. If we are successful, we want the world to know it. There were several thousand international press back at the Cape in those days. I think that was a wise decision because the whole world went along on that mission with us.
“Someone pointed out to me once that in some of the foreign papers their coverage of the flight was, ‘We did it.’ They felt they were a part of it even though they hadn’t had any direct connection in engineering or putting the thing up there in my flight. It had been open enough as they looked at it as representing the free world. Those were the days of the Cold War.”

On the naming of Friendship 7:

“World War II people got in the habit of naming their aircraft. NASA said if we wanted to name spacecraft, that was OK. When I was selected for the flight, my kids were early teenagers and I turned that over to them. I would leave it up to them to recommend to me what it should be named to represent us to the rest of the world. They came up with all sorts of names on a tablet and they narrowed it down to three or four. The one they favored was Friendship, so that’s the one I did. The seven just meant the first seven astronauts. Friendship was selected by my kids.”

Where were you the day Armstrong walked on the moon?

“I had left NASA by that time. My first flight was in February, 1962 and Neil landed in ’69. I was in the observation area of the control center for most of that mission and was in there when they made the actual landing.
“That was another one that showed Neil’s dedication to what he was doing. The estimates were he was down to between 15 and 35 seconds of fuel remaining when they actually set down. It was very, very tight. It showed his dedication to doing what he had set out to do in representing our country. Those were still the days of the Cold War. People forget that. Landing on the moon was a competitive thing. The Soviets had their own program, which was a very secret program, we learned more about it later. After Neil landed on the moon they cancelled their program.”

Armstrong avoided the spotlight. Did you keep in touch?

“We kept in touch all the time, we talked occasionally. I hadn’t been with Neil to sit down and talk since February, when they had the 50th anniversary of my flight, Ohio State University had a big celebration there. Neil was one of our speakers that night and we had a chance to be with he and Carol for a while. We’ve talked on the phone since then a number of times.
But it still came as a bit of a shock. He went in for a stress test and wound up with a quadruple bypass. Complications from that was what happened.”

Where were you when you heard he’d died?

“Annie and I were out shopping and a friend called me, it had just been announced on the news. We’d been talking to Carol every couple of days for some time.”

What were your first thoughts?

“We knew he was on a downhill slide at that time, so it didn’t come with as much shock as maybe it did to a lot of other folks. Neil was a patriot above all. He didn’t look for the spotlight, quiet the opposite. He wasn’t a recluse as some people have termed him, that wasn’t the Neil I knew at all. He was a wonderful friend and one of the most accomplished pilots in this country and did a great job as an astronaut.”

On the 50-year anniversary of his flight:

“We’re glad to join people at the research center that bears our name. There’s great things being done there that feed right into the space program and into everybody’s life in this country. We’re in a time period that if there’s one thing we need it’s better education and better research. We’re competitive with nations around the world and if we’re going to be competitive, that’s what it’s all about. That’s what our space station is all about, doing basic research. Ray (Lugo) leads a team at the NASA research center that not only supports the station and the energy resreach (Communications, power generation, propulsion. Any time you seen an airplane flying, it probably has NASA Glenn technology, Lugo said). That’s what we need more of. People take it for granted because the center’s been out there so long. It’s a wonderful place and they’re doing great things for this country.”

It is hard to believe how long it’s been?

“Fifty years, that’s really hard to believe. It seems to me more like two or three weeks, literally. Everything was so vivid at that time. It was all brand new and we were experiencing things for the first time, so it was impressed on me very vividly at th time.
“The other thing is it’s been a rare day that somebody hasn’t brought up something about the space program, so I’ve recalled it often enough that it remains very vivid in my memory.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been 50 years, all the progress we’ve made, Neil’s landing on the moon, the shuttle program, the international space station that we have a huge investment in. NASA is in the process of redesigning new spacecraft, along with industry, so that we have our own vehicle now and don’t have to send our astronauts to be put into space with the Russians, something I think we never should have gotten into that position to being with, I feel very strongly about that.
“But the main reason you’re up there is to do basic research, it isn’t just to up there and have a good time and look around. On the (shuttle) flight, we had 83 research projects. Columbia, a later flight, had 90 research projects. We have a huge investment in it, I think we should be maximizing the research return out of that station. That will do good for everybody, right here on earth.”

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