08/26/12 4:41 PM ET
Astronaut Glenn, honored by Tribe, recalls Armstrong
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
John Glenn, the former NASA astronaut and United States Senator, sat on the bench inside the Indians' dugout at Progressive Field on Sunday, sharing memories of his friend Neil Armstrong. Armstrong -- the first man to walk on the moon -- passed away on Saturday at the age of 82.
"People have looked up for tens of thousands of years and wondered what was up there," Glenn said. "In our time, Neil was able to go up and make that first footprint on the moon. That's pretty big stuff."
Glenn, who was at the ballpark to attend a pregame ceremony in honor of the 50th anniversary of his orbit of the Earth, was asked if he ever felt a touch of jealousy over Armstrong's accomplishment. The 91-year-old Glenn, with his wife, Anna, at his side, cracked a smile.
"I'm not by nature a jealous person," Glenn said. "But, for Neil, I'll make an exception."
Glenn was extremely saddened by Armstrong's passing.
"We lost a close friend," Glenn said, "and the country lost a great patriot."
A majority of the questions Glenn answered in a 20-minute session with reporters understandably centered around Armstrong. The purpose of this day, however, was initially meant for honoring Glenn's life of incredible achievement.
In February 1962, Glenn became the first American in orbit by piloting the Friendship 7 -- named by his children -- around the earth three times.
"You're looking down," he said, "and you can see whole weather patterns and you can see whole nations at a glance and, although you don't feel the speed, you're going almost five miles a second just to stay in orbit up there. Five miles a second -- hard to believe.
"Day time is about 45 minutes and night time is about 45 minutes, so you see a lot of sunrises and sunsets. It's beautiful."
Glenn, who was born in Cambridge, Ohio, also served as a combat aviator for the Marine Corps in World War II and in the Korean War. In Korea, Glenn had Red Sox great and Hall of Famer Ted Williams as his wingman on multiple missions.
"Ted was a good friend," Glenn said. "Probably half the missions he flew in Korea, he flew as my wingman. So I got to know Ted pretty well. We had a great time. After we came back, we kept in touch."
Glenn was asked how Williams performed as a wingman.
He answered with a tale that upped Williams' legend.
"He was a good pilot," Glenn said. "He got hit once and was very, very lucky. He had two hits really. The worst one was he had a fire around the engine and was afraid he was going to blow up. People kept telling him, 'Get out! Get out!'"
Williams did not eject himself from the plane. Instead, he crashed the burning aircraft into a field near their base.
"He told me later," Glenn said, "he had long legs, and he was afraid if he ejected, his legs might hit that canopy bow and cut his legs off or something like that. So he came back in on fire and had no radio communication and he couldn't get the landing gear down or the flaps down.
"He slid up the runway a couple thousand feet with the airplane burning and ran out and watched it burn while the fire trucks came out. He was a combat pilot in every sense of the word, and did a good job."
"Those aren't the hits we remember Ted for," interjected astronaut Mike Forman, who was also on hand for Sunday's festivities.
Glenn, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to Sunday's game against the Yankees, said he grew up a fan of the Indians during the days of Bob Feller and Earl Averill. Glenn admitted to having also rooted for the Detroit Tigers, back when Hank Greenberg manned first and Mickey Cochrane crouched behind the dish.
Following a moment of silence for Armstrong, Glenn headed to the mound for the first pitch, stopping just short of the pitching rubber. He tossed the baseball underhand and sent it to bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr. on a fly.
"I'm glad to be back here," Glenn said.
And he will never forget being up there.
"Fifty years. That's really hard to believe," Glenn said. "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 the time."
Memories of events like that are why Glenn has no real jealousy over Armstrong's accomplishments.
"I've had some opportunities of my own that I've treasured," Glenn said. "I've been lucky."