Astronaut, Politician, Marine: The Little Known Combat Career Of John Glenn

John Glenn

Most people remember John Glenn as an astronaut and a politician. But, he also served as a Marine aviator during World War II and the Korean War. He was a highly decorated Marine with 18 Air Medals and the Distinguished Flying Cross with three gold stars and two oak leaf clusters.

Joining The Military

Glenn was going to sign up with the Army Air Force after Pearl Harbor. However, he became a Naval Aviation Cadet. Soon, he went over to the Marine Corps and was deployed to the South Pacific.

His first plane was an R4D, which was the Navy’s version of the C-47 Skytrain. He soon would get an upgrade, though. He began flying the F4U Corsair around the Marshall Islands, shooting at the Maloelap Atoll anti-aircraft batteries.

When he went back to the states, he flew the VMF-218 in China on patrol duty. After World War II and before Korea, Glenn studied at the Amphibious Warfare School and was an instructor.

Korean War

He transitioned back to combat at the beginning of the Korean War. He flew with the First Marine Air Wing, VMF-311, at P’ohang. He found out firsthand what happens when you come across what fellow pilots called “flak traps.”

While flying over Sinanju, he saw a Korean anti-aircraft gun and decided to go after it. So he gave it all his F9F had from the four 20-mm cannons.

However, his plane was hit too. The damage was so severe that he struggled to keep the plane level. When he made it back, he said a hole in the tail was large enough “to put my head and shoulders through.”

Another time he came back with 250 bullet holes in it. He flew 27 missions with the Air Force’s 51st Fighter Wing, earning three kills.

After Korea

When the Korean War was over, Glenn was a test pilot for Project Bullet. He flew an F8U-1P across the U.S. While he was flying faster than the speed of sound, he did have to refuel three times at slower speeds.

He joined NASA in 1959 and went where few men had gone before. In 2016, Glenn died at the age of 95.

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