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Ride Is Greatest Since Paul Revere's
U.S. Gets Needed Boost In Morale
By James Reston
© 1962 New York Times News Service
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Feb. 20 ─ When John Glenn came in from his morning's ride Tuesday, the Post Office Department in Washington announced that it was going to print a commemorative four-cent stamp in his honor, but the chances are that America would have remembered the event anyway.
For it was the greatest American ride since Paul Revere, who didn't get a stamp till much later, and it was pure American from start to finish: part Hollywood spectacular, part circus, part country fair ─ three times around the world in living color and news from heaven all the way.
They say that this sort of thing has been done somewhere before, but not like this. Gagarin and Titov of the Soviet Union went into orbit by themselves, but Glenn made a party of it and took the whole country along for the ride.
America sort of needed an outing and an airing like this. For the first time in its history, it had lately begun to second-guess itself. In fact, ever since Gagarin's first space flight the skeptics and doubters, the witch-smellers and head-shrinkers, the debunkers and scoffers had confused and frustrated the country.
This in turn produced a lot of big splashy generalizations that somehow we had lost our way and had to find wholly new policies to deal with our problems at home and abroad.
Even the American character, it was said, had changed. The old faiths and the old silent types with their plain wives and their beer and baseball were out of fashion, and then along came these matter-of-fact, uncomplicated, almost old-fashioned characters who paid more attention to outer space than to inner tensions and made the country begin to think again.
This surely is what John Glenn did Tuesday. There was nothing fancy about him; just that flat middle-western voice giving the facts, and saying he felt "real fine," and the view was "tremendous" and the coast of Africa was coming up on the left, and boy the American shoreline sure looked wonderful.
This was the kind of talk you might hear from the nice man next door, which is about what most of these astronauts have turned out to be, even after they hit Harry Luce's jackpot. And the interesting thing about this is that the space project is full of this kind of American.
It is not only John Glenn from New Concord, Ohio, and Alan Shepard from East Derry, N.H., and Virgil Grissom from Mitchell, Ind., who made this orbital flight possible. It was a team operation from defense and NASA, from the McDonnell Aircraft Corp. and General Dynamics, from Bell Laboratories and a lot of other places, and it is remarkable how similar many of the leading characters seem to be.
This team of men in the plate-glass night club atmosphere of Cape Canaveral is one of the most interesting aspects of this whole operation. The fancy, hard-drinking America is all around the base. For days, it has been a jungle of inflammable blondes and Billy Minsky strip-teasers.
It was largely this fringe aspect of Canaveral, where Glenn and the other astronauts have to live, that gave Tuesday's atmosphere such an air of carnival and hippodrome before the bird went aloft.
Maybe there is some symbolism here, however. For while this chromium-plated America exists, so does the other America of moderate, monogamous types. What Glenn did was simply to lift the nation above all the glitter and in so doing he raised its sights and its confidence.
Maybe he never gave it a thought, but it's likely to be remembered for a while anyway, with or without that commemorative stamp.