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Presentation of the Distinguished Public Service Award to Senator John Glenn
As Delivered by William S. Cohen, Secretary of Defense, Conmy Hall, Fort Myer, Virginia, Friday, December 04, 1998

General [Henry] Shelton [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff], thank you for your generous remarks, and thank you for the leadership you have given to this country and to our men and women in uniform. Senator Glenn and Annie; Members of the Cabinet; Members of Congress; Deputy Secretary [John] Hamre; Service Secretaries, Service Chiefs and spouses; Janet [Cohen]; Distinguished guests; Ladies and gentlemen. First of all, let me thank you for joining Janet and me in paying tribute to a very special person and a true American hero.

John F. Kennedy, the President who sent John Glenn into space the first time, once said that when the high court of history sits in judgement on each of us, recording whether we fulfilled our responsibilities, our success will be measured by the answers to four questions. First, were we truly men of courage? Second, were we truly men of judgement? Third, were we truly men of integrity? Fourth, were we truly men of dedication? When history judges John Glenn, the answer to each of these questions will be an unqualified, unequivocal "yes." Today we express our gratitude to a true American hero who from the streets of a small Ohio town to the high heavens above, has indeed lived a life of courage, integrity, judgement and dedication.

Chesterton said once that "Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die."

For virtually all Americans, it is easy to think of the courage of John Glenn the astronaut, twice above the reaches of the earth and twice under the tickertape of New York’s "Canyon of Heroes." For Ohioans, it is easy to think of the integrity of John Glenn the Senator, carrying their concerns to the United States Capitol. For me, it is easy to think of the judgement and dedication of John Glenn, a dear friend and colleague of many years. Indeed, throughout his life this man of adventure, action and passion has carried many titles, and he has honored each with extraordinary strength of character and devotion to duty.

Emerson once said, "A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer." John Glenn has been braver 57 years longer. Fifty-seven years ago this week was a fateful day for America and for John. He was courting his childhood sweetheart, Annie, when the attack on Pearl Harbor shocked the nation. Even before the smoke cleared, there was no doubt about his direction. John Glenn was going to serve his country.

In World War II, Lieutenant Glenn the Marine fighter pilot risked all in the skies of the Western Pacific, flying 59 combat missions with his Marine Fighter Squadron 155. In the Korean War, Major Glenn took to the skies again, in an F-86 jet fighter, felling three enemy aircraft in thunderous dogfights. For his valor in 149 combat missions in two wars, he received six Distinguished Flying Crosses and eighteen Air Medals. In 1957, Test Pilot Glenn, as Tom Wolfe has said, had the Right Stuff, "slipping the surly bonds of earth" and setting a transcontinental record in the first supersonic flight across America. Indeed, John Glenn was an American hero long before blasting into orbit.

But it was the 1962 space odyssey of Lieutenant Colonel Glenn that made this man with the brave heart a hero for all the ages. Friendship 7 and his orbital flight lifted more than a space capsule. It truly lifted the spirits and the hopes of an entire nation. And the words "Godspeed, John Glenn," continues to reverberate to the very core of our souls with a power that dwarfs even that of the Atlas rocket that propelled him into space. As John descended to earth, he rose to become such an icon that President Kennedy decided he was too valuable to send to space again, a dictate with which I am sure Annie agreed.

No hero becomes a hero alone, and so today we also pay tribute to Annie Glenn. Not only is she John’s navigator on their weekly flights between Washington and Ohio and his lifelong co-pilot, she is also a hero in her own right. Hers is a strong voice for children, speech and communications, and the disabled. So, Annie, please accept our thanks for your service to America as well. We thank you very much.

After John Glenn the astronaut became John Glenn the Senator, I had the privilege of calling him a colleague for 18 years in the U.S. Senate. We served together on the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Governmental Affairs Committee and the Intelligence Committee where I bore witness to his integrity and dedication. And while we were from different parties, if there was any gap across the aisle Senator Glenn always bridged it with respect and commitment to his country. His concern for our men and women in uniform has been unwavering, and his knowledge and credibility on military issues unmatched. His is a vote of compassion for the health and welfare of our citizens, our civil rights and our environment. And, of course, he is the Senate’s preeminent expert on science and technology, and his devotion has helped keep America in space. John Glenn knows that the answers to the mysteries of life on earth reside in the "sunlit silence" of the heavens. And I dare to venture that the men and women aboard Endeavor today will surely confirm that.

Of course, John’s most recent service has again been on high, as Payload Specialist Glenn. Janet and I had the opportunity to visit John and the crew of Discovery in Houston before their history-making flight, and I was reminded that if you shine a light on his record and reputation for honor, a much greater light shines back.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. once wrote of honor, "It lifts a man to the sky and teaches him the high and secret pathways." Well, honor has lifted John Glenn to the sky – and beyond. He has flown on wings of honor -- John Glenn the combat pilot -- John Glenn the astronaut -- John Glenn the statesman -- and shown all America the high pathways of courage, integrity, dedication and judgement. And it is now my high honor to bestow our highest civilian award, the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service, to John Glenn.