While he was in the spotlight, she was a bright light. Today, we mourn the loss of John Glenn, but none more so than Annie Glenn. Married for seventy-three years, they had known each other since they were two. John was the first American to space, but he knew he was married to a woman who godliness was like a bright star (Philippians 2:15).
John Glenn and Annie Castor grew up together in New Concord, Ohio. “We practically grew up in the same playpen. We never knew a time when we didn’t know each other.” John was the all-American boy, a three sport varsity athlete. According to a CNN article, Annie was bright, caring, talented, but had a stutter that haunted her. It was categorized as an “85%” disability — 85% of the time, she could not manage to make words come out. She limited her conversations to written notes, knowing that if she spoke, she was laughed at like the time she tried to recite a poem. While others couldn’t get past the stutter, John Glenn couldn’t get over her.
They married on April 6, 1943. John was a Marine aviator. He flew fifty-nine combat missions in World War II and ninety during the Korean War. Every time he was deployed, he told her goodbye the same way. “I’m just going down to the corner store to get a pack of gum.” And in privacy of their home and the intimacy of their relationship, she always replied: “Don’t be long.”
Life as a military wife was hard, as it is today. They moved frequently and she was often lonely, but there was a time in 1973 when she left. A television program featured a doctor discussing a new method of treating stutters. It was an intensive program in Roanoke. She would be cut off from contact with family and friend for three weeks. After those three weeks, she called John. Annie greeted him and John cried in joy over hearing her.
She always supported him and he always believed in her. John Glenn once wrote of her: “It takes guts to operate with a disability. I don’t know if I would have had the courage to do all the things that Annie did so well.” He went on to say: “We tend to think of heroes as being those who are well known, but in my book, Annie is one of those heroes.”
Annie lost her stutter and found not only her voice, but also her calling. She started giving speeches for her husband when he ran for Senate. She spoke glowingly about the man that believed in her, but she would also use the platform to identify those that were like her. She knew what it was like to be overlooked and marginalized, whether by your own doing or as a result of others. With her voice, this would not continue if she had anything to do with it. Washington Post reporter Myra MacPherson observed:
“In a crowd, she heads straight for those in wheelchairs. She has a sort of radar; finds the shyest person in the room and takes the time to draw him out. A group of deaf people were in the audience at one of her husband’s speeches. Afterward, Annie Glenn went over to them and soon was learning sign language. As the press crowded around Glenn, he looked over at his wife, who was signing “I Love You” to the deaf. “That’s what you should be covering,” he told the reporters.”
The Glenns’ marriage shines bright in world that sometimes seems so dark. They belonged to a Presbyterian church, where John served as an elder. They treasured each other (Proverbs 18:22). She supported him (Ephesians 5:23–24). He believed in her (Ephesians 5:28). And they sought to outdo one another in showing honor and extending love (Romans 12:10).
Ernest Hemingway believed that we don’t fall in love but rather we grow in it. Affection creates the beautiful inability to know left from right and up from down that characterizes “falling in love.”
But love requires a series of commitments that guide someone so that when feelings are absent, the commitments are still present to protect the beloved. Such commitments can be sacrificial at times, but growth always follows sacrifice. You are never the same after sacrifice. And in marriage, it is for the better.
Perhaps it was providential that he was astronaut. He saw the stars shine bright up close—both in a space shuttle and at home.