Remembering John Glenn

Vice President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden traveled to Columbus, Ohio, yesterday to pay their final respects to astronaut and former Senator John Glenn at The Ohio State University. Below are adapted remarks from the Vice President’s eulogy:

Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden watch as Marines carry the casket of Senator John Glenn during a memorial service on the campus of Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, Dec. 17, 2016. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

When John Glenn was 10 years old — his father, his hero and a veteran of World War I — taught him how to play taps on the bugle. They’d play together on Memorial Day in New Concord, small flags and flowers next to gravestones of the fallen.

John would recall that time and feeling, “where love of country was a given. Defense of its ideals was an obligation. And the opportunity to join in its conquests and explorations was a challenge not only to fulfill a sacred duty, but to join a joyous adventure.

With John, all the years I knew him and worked with him, it was always a joyous adventure. And Annie, what a joyous adventure you and John had together on display for your children and the whole world to see. You all know it. You can tell when a couple really genuinely loves and enjoys one another. It was infectious.

On behalf of President Obama and the First Lady, on behalf of the American people, Jill and I are here because we love you, Annie. And we love John. And together, you taught us all how to love.

That’s not something you usually talk about when you talk about heroes, especially heroes like John Glenn, who lived a life that was rigorous, but tinged with just a little bit of magic. We talk about a daring spirit, poise under pressure, mental and physical toughness. But for all his heroism that history will remember, in war, in space, in public life, you felt something deeper with John.

Annie, on the way to get to Air Force Two, I got a call from Secretary of State John Kerry. He’s somewhere over the Atlantic on the way to the Middle East. And he told me about the time he got to spend with you and the family yesterday. He said John is only the ninth person in the history of the state of Ohio to ever lie in state. And he talked about how much it meant to him to be with you, Annie.

And he gave what I think is maybe the best description of John Glenn I have ever heard, and I knew John for 40 years. He said, John came out of the heart of the country and he stole America’s heart. And he did. He stole America’s heart.

And, Annie, you and John and Jill and I have been friends for 40 years. I know others have longer relationships, but what a wonderful 40 years it has been. We served together in the Senate side by side for 25 years. And we traveled around the world together. John was one of the happiest people I ever knew. He had that infectious smile. Even when things looked like everything was crashing down, John would walk into my office or walk into a caucus with that big smile on his face, and I’d wonder, where in the hell has he been? Did he not just hear what I just heard?

But the world knew and it respected John, from Columbus to Cambodia, from Washington to Beijing. He loved being a senator. He loved his constituents and his colleagues. He loved his staff, many of whom are here, and, boy, did they love him back. And you could feel his love for his country and for his state, and for the Marine Corps, for NASA.

But most especially, you felt his love for you, Annie, and for David and Lyn and his grandchildren. All you had to do, as I said, was see John and Annie just walk together, just the way they looked at each other, and you knew. That’s what it’s supposed to be like. I said that to Annie today before we came in. And she said, well, that’s like you and Jill. And I said, no, it’s different. Everybody knows I love Jill more than she loves me. I think you loved him just as much.

The last time we were together was when Jill and I had Annie and John over to the Vice President’s residence. I was looking at the picture this morning, Annie, of you the two of you walking down the steps, walking out to the gate, and Jill and I behind you. And the words of the poet Christopher Marlowe came to mind, “come with me and be my love, and all the pleasures we shall prove.

Together, Annie — you and John proved all the pleasures. You’ve not only had a magical love affair, but the other thing about you, you were partners. Together, you bore the weight of fame and responsibility with enormous humility and a sense of duty that defined you as the greatest of America’s Greatest Generation.

I think John defined what it meant to be America, what it meant to be an American, and what we were about just by how he acted. It was always about promise. We were a country of possibilities, opportunity. Always a belief in tomorrow. When John was at the house a couple of years ago, that’s all he kept talking about — what are we going to do now, Joe? What are we going to do tomorrow? We have all these opportunities.

And together, you and John taught us that a good life is built not on a single historic act, or multiple acts of heroism, but on a thousand little things that build character. Treating everyone with dignity and respect. John was one of the few of my colleagues when we’d go into the restroom where there was a shoeshine guy, John would always pat him on the shoulder and give him a hug. Understanding that despite fame and position, everybody was John’s equal in his mind. And that it all comes down to being personal. The President always kids me, Annie, because I’m getting old enough now I could even try to improve on Tip O’Neill’s admonition about, all politics is local. I don’t think John agreed with that either. I think he thought all politics is personal. It’s all personal. It all comes down to being personal, to being there for family and being there for friends in good times and in bad times. Like you and John were there for me and Jill when I was in a hospital. Like you were there for us when our son Beau was deployed, and you were there when we buried him. It’s all about being personal.

Annie — you and John, as was mentioned earlier, were with Ethel and Robert Kennedy on that fateful day in California in June 1968. I happened to be with Ethel a couple of weeks ago at an awards ceremony in New York, called the Ripple of Hope Awards. I had heard John wasn’t doing well. And I had a brief discussion with Ethel as I sat with her. And the story is well known about Ethel asking John and Annie to go back to Hickory Hill, the Kennedy home in Virginia, to be with the Kennedy kids.

But what also struck me, Annie — I was told that when you and John got to Hickory Hill, John walked into Senator Kennedy’s private study and saw that Robert Kennedy, who was the only political hero I ever had in my life, had out a book of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poetry. And it was opened up, and there in the margins were comments made by Robert Kennedy about a passage he liked, “This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.

The thing I liked most about John was he knew from his upbringing that ordinary Americans could do extraordinary things — and he believed and he was confident that every successive generation would know what to do with the time it’s given. And that’s the charge I think John left us, Annie, to join our nation’s conquests and our nation’s explorations as a challenge not only to fulfill a sacred duty, but to join in this joyous adventure.

So when the Marine plays taps on the bugle at Arlington for our friend, we can look deep into the heavens and know with certitude, what John believed and was right, that future generations of Americans will also look deep within themselves and understand how to explore, how to serve, how to love.

Then we’ll come to understand that if we’re looking for a message to send about our time here on our Earth for what it means to be an American, it’s the life of John Glenn.

So God bless you, John.
God bless you, Annie.
And may God protect our troops.

Joe Biden (Archives)

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