COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — John Glenn’s home state and the nation began saying goodbye to the beloved astronaut Friday starting with a public viewing of his flag-draped casket inside Ohio’s Statehouse rotunda.
Politicians, including Secretary of State John Kerry, and ordinary citizens from across the country paid their respects to the first American to orbit Earth as a somber Marine honor guard kept watch. The normally festive holiday decor was bedecked with black buntings and the windows were covered in black.
Ryan and Cristin Hanson, of Holland, Michigan, brought their 10-month-old baby, Hilary.
“He’s a hero who’s continued to be remembered,” said Ryan, 3, who said he and his wife, 29, were awed by Glenn’s accomplishments. “When we were young, we learned about John Glenn from our folks, and we hope that’s something that gets perpetuated as we move forward.”
Glenn died last week at 95. He grew up in eastern Ohio before becoming a national hero when he orbited Earth in 1962. Before that he was a fighter pilot in World War II and Korea.
A Democrat, Glenn also spent more than two decades representing Ohio in the U.S. Senate and became the oldest man in space, at age 77 in 1998.
Kerry, who served with Glenn in the Senate, walked up with Ohio Gov. John Kasich late in the afternoon and put a hand on the casket.
Glenn’s widow, Annie, gently rubbed the flag covering the casket while seated in a wheelchair, accompanied by the couple’s two children.
The public viewing Friday was scheduled to stretch at least eight hours. Visitors in the line, which grew as the day wore on, proceeded patiently as video screens and placards placed within view recounted his life of accomplishment, including a late-in-life civics education project he launched with the former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
Most paused for a moment in front of Glenn’s closed casket. A few snapped photos. Some bowed their heads or crossed themselves. One man, holding the hand of a small boy, turned and saluted before walking away.
President Abraham Lincoln and seven others before Glenn have lain in repose in Ohio since its capitol building opened in the 1850s, according to the Ohio History Connection, a statewide history organization.
“This guy was one of our great Ohioans. I wasn’t going to miss this event,” said Holly Rogers, 62, who works nearby. “I wasn’t here for Abraham Lincoln, so I can be here for John Glenn.”
A series of events celebrating Glenn’s life is planned, including a processional through the heart of downtown Columbus Saturday followed by a public memorial service at Ohio State University, where he helped found a public affairs college. Vice President Joe Biden, a former Senate colleague of Glenn’s, was among those expected to attend the service.
Glenn will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C., in a private ceremony in the spring.