For half-a-century, the world has applauded astronaut John Glenn as an American hero. On Feb. 20, 1962, he was the first American to orbit the earth in a fragile capsule called Friendship 7. Decades later, after he retired from the U.S. Senate, NASA invited him to suit up again and become the oldest American to fly in space. But few know that, during all those years, Glenn had his own hero, his wife Annie. John and Annie first met (literally) in a playpen when they were infants and their parents were neighbors. They attended the same high school, where Glenn was a three-sport varsity athlete, Mr. Everything, and he only had eyes for Annie. She was bright and talented, but stuttered so badly that 85% of the time she could not speak words. When she tried to recite a poem in elementary school, everyone laughed. In restaurants she had to point to things on the menu. As an adult, she silently handed taxi drivers notes telling where she needed to go. But John Glenn never stopped loving her, and they married on April 6, 1943.


After having two children, she wrote, "Can you imagine living in a modern world and not being able to use a telephone? 'Hello' used to be so hard to say. I worried that my children might be injured and need a doctor." As a Marine aviator, Glenn flew 59 combat missions in WWII and Korea. His last words to Annie before leaving were always the same. "I'm just going to the corner store for a pack of gum." She always struggled to reply, "Don't be too long." Those were the words he used before riding Friendship 7 into space in 1962, and also in 1998 when, at age 77, he returned to space on the shuttle Discovery. But before his final flight, he actually gave her a pack of gum which she carried next to her heart until he returned safely.

John and Annie in 1998
When she was 53, Annie found a cure for her stuttering and could speak freely. John says the first time he heard her speak, he fell to his knees with a prayer of gratitude and wept. He says, "I saw Annie's perseverance and strength through the years and it just made me admire her more. I don't know if I would have had the courage."
Annie was at his side when John passed away in December, 2016. He was 95, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. "It's been wonderful," she said, "because we've had real love."