John Glenn's true hero

John Glenn and his wife Annie parade up Broadway's 'Canyon of Heroes' in November 1998.

Story highlights

  • Bob Greene says Glenn downplays his hero status, but views his wife, Annie, as a hero
  • Annie struggled for much of her life with a severe speech impediment

This column -- written by CNN contributor Bob Greene, author of the books "Late Edition: A Love Story" and "Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen" -- was originally published in February 2012. John Glenn died Thursday at 95. His wife, Annie, is 96.

(CNN)For half a century, the world has applauded John Glenn as a heart-stirring American hero. He lifted the nation's spirits when, as one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, he was blasted alone into orbit around the Earth; the enduring affection for him is so powerful that even now people find themselves misting up at the sight of his face or the sound of his voice.

But for all these years, Glenn has had a hero of his own, someone who he has seen display endless courage of a different kind:
    Annie Glenn.
      They have been married for 68 years.
      He is 90; she turned 92 on Friday.
      This weekend there has been news coverage of the 50th anniversary of Glenn's flight into orbit. We are being reminded that, half a century down the line, he remains America's unforgettable hero.
        He has never really bought that.
        Because the heroism he most cherishes is of a sort that is seldom cheered. It belongs to the person he has known longer than he has known anyone else in the world.
        John Glenn and Annie Castor first knew each other when -- literally -- they shared a playpen.
        In New Concord, Ohio, his parents and hers were friends. When the families got together, their children played.
        John -- the future Marine fighter pilot, the future test-pilot ace, the future astronaut -- was pure gold from the start. He would end up having what it took to rise to the absolute pinnacle of American regard during the space race; imagine what it meant to be the young John Glenn in the small confines of New Concord.
        Three-sport varsity athlete, most admired boy in town, Mr. Everything.
        Annie Castor was bright, was caring, was talented, was generous of spirit. But she could talk only with the most excruciating of difficulty. It haunted her.