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Reid brightens at talk of John Glenn

As he navigates the Senate through its latest crisis to forestall a government default, Majority Leader Harry Reid is showing few smiles in public these days.

But on Monday, the Nevadan’s face brightened and his hands clasped in evident delight as he shared stories about former senator John Glenn as the one-time astronaut and fighter pilot turned 90 years of age.

Glenn served as a Democratic senator from Ohio from 1974 until 1999. Reid, who joined the Senate in 1987, said Glenn, who already was a legend, made a big early impression on him.

Reid recalled Glenn one day invited other senators to accompany him to tour the USS John F. Kennedy aircraft carrier at sea.

"Well I’m a new senator, and that’s John Glenn, and I thought everyone would raise their hand," Reid recalled. "I was the only one who raised my hand."

Reid and Glenn flew out to the carrier. "We were there for hours and hours, and the seas got rougher and rougher, and the planes would come in, oh man!" Reid recalled. 

As the challenge to land jet fighters on the bobbing runway got tougher and tougher, incoming pilots would be waved off to try again and again.

"And then John Glenn said, ‘I think I should go up there,’" Reid said.  And Glenn did.

"And here he comes in, landing on the aircraft carrier," Reid said in wonderment, pointing out Glenn was about 65 at the time.

Another time, Reid said he was hosting a group of Nevada students who had won a double-dutch rope skipping tournament. 

The students set up outside Reid’s office, and during their performance they invited him to jump in.

"I was so embarrassed," Reid said. "I could not get one step."

"I did not realize John Glenn had been watching," Reid continued. "He comes out, the famous John Glenn, and he says, ‘Would you mind if I tried it?’  I assume he was 70 years old at the time.

"He was perfect. He did not miss a step, and that was hard to do," Reid said.

"What a physical specimen he was, at 70 years old," Reid said. "To think what he must have been like at 20."

One more story, Reid said.

Glenn once led Reid and some other senators on a Senate trip behind the Iron Curtain. Traveling from Austria into Czechoslovakia, their train was halted.

"The Communists stopped the train," Reid remembered. "They had dogs and soldiers looking under the train. They were looking at who we were.

"But when things calmed down,  one of the soldiers asked John Glenn for his autograph." Reid said. "He was a world-famous man."


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