John Glenn — a man who saw combat as a Marine aviator in World War II and Korea, served as an astronaut and the first man to orbit the earth, and was a U.S. senator from Ohio — passed away at 95 years old on Dec. 8.
In the Corps, Marines today often cite a speech Glenn gave in his 1974 Senate primary campaign against Howard Metzenbaum, a man who had defeated Glenn in a primary four years earlier.
The 1974 election was his third run at the Senate primary, and he had to beat Metzenbaum, a proud self-made millionaire and businessman. Metzenbaum, knowing that the Democratic primary voters in Ohio were wary of the military in the context of the Vietnam War, had taken to calling Glenn “Colonel Glenn,” according to a PBS profile. In that context, Metzenbaum said Glenn “had never met a payroll.”
Glenn waited until a debate at the Cleveland City Club on May 4, 1974, to respond. In his closing remarks, he said:
“Howard, I can’t believe you said I have never held a job. I served twenty-three years in the United States Marine Corps. I served through two wars. I flew 149 missions. My plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire on 12 different occasions. I was in the space program. It wasn’t my checkbook; it was my life on the line. It was not a nine-to-five job where I took time off to take the daily cash receipts to the bank.
“It wasn’t my checkbook; it was my life on the line.”
I ask you to go with me, as I went the other day, to a veterans hospital and look those men, with their mangled bodies, in the eye and tell them they didn’t hold a job. You go with me to any gold-star mother and you look her in the eye and tell her that her son did not hold a job. …
… You go with me on Memorial Day coming up and you stand in Arlington National Cemetery, where I have more friends than I’d like to remember, and you watch those waving flags. You stand there, and you think about this nation, and you tell me that those people didn’t have a job.
I’ll tell you, Howard Metzenbaum, you should be on your knees every day of your life thanking God that there were some men — some men — who held a job. And they required a dedication to purpose and a love of country and a dedication to duty that was more important than life itself. And their self-sacrifice is what made this country possible. I have held a job, Howard.”
Glenn’s speech was met with more than 20 seconds of uninterrupted, raucous applause. He went on to win his primary, win the Senate election, and serve for 24 years in the U.S. Senate.
The speech gained legendary status in the Marine Corps when, in 2010, ahead of the battle for Marjah in Helmand province, Afghanistan, a gunnery sergeant used the speech to fire up his Marines ahead of war.
Brian Walgren, who was the company gunny for Alpha Company in 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, delivered a beautiful and motivating rendition of Glenn’s speech, adding his commentary and profanity, as only a Gunny would.
Watch that below: