Dec. 8, 2016, was a sad day for Americans who are old enough to remember back to the 1960s, when the United States and Soviet Union were battling for supremacy in outer space.

Just one day after Americans commemorated the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, one of the heroes of that battle some 50 years ago -- John Glenn -- died. The Ohio native was a hero, an inspiration and a legend.

I never met Glenn, but I'm very familiar with the town he grew up in -- New Concord. I've visited the museum in his boyhood home there, and covered John Glenn High and Muskingum College sports when I was sports editor for the Cambridge Daily Jefferson in the late 1970s.

"In the darkest days of the Cold War, Glenn's 1962 orbital flight in Friendship 7 restored Americans' faith in themselves and their country," said Don McKen-dry, emeritus director and one of the originators of the Glenn historic site, in a press release last week.

The home features a variety of displays from Glenn's childhood in the village through his military, space and political careers.

On the main floor, living history tours of 1935 (during the Great Depression) and 1942 (during WWII) teach about life during those very important times in American history. The historic site plans to unveil a presentation of 1962 (the year of his flight and the coldest part of the Cold War) next year.

"He'll be remembered world-wide for these accomplishments," said Debbie Allender, director of the historic site, "but many of us here will remember him for his kindness, his love of children and his cooperation in creating this museum for them and future generations."

Officials at the historic site also mentioned that John and Annie Glenn will be remembered for their "storybook" marriage. "Theirs was a story to cherish and we always will," said McKendry. At 96 years old, Annie survives her husband.

Glenn was born July 18, 1921 in Cambridge, but was reared in New Concord just across the Muskingum County border. While I was in Cambridge, I lived about 3 miles from the village.

Glenn graduated from New Concord High in 1939. The high school eventually was named after him. Its boys basketball team won this year's state Division II championship over Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary.

Glenn studied engineering at Muskingum College, then got his pilot's license.

In the spring of 1941 at age 19, he enrolled in a pilot's training course at New Philadelphia Municipal Airport in my hometown.

I've flown into and out of that airport, located next to historic Schoenbrunn Village, in small planes a handful of times. My uncle worked there in the early 1950s, and my folks and I ate many meals at its old restaurant after church.

During World War II, the airport had a civilian pilot training program under the sponsorship of Muskingum College to meet the demands of the growing need for pilots, and Glenn took lessons from Harry Clever, after whom the airport is now named.

Although Glenn did not complete requirements for graduation from Muskingum, the school granted him a degree in 1962 after his Mercury space flight.

Glenn enlisted as a U.S. Navy aviation cadet in 1942, and flew several missions during World War II and the Korean Conflict. He logged nearly 9,000 hours of flying time, including about 3,000 in jet aircrafts.

In 1957, he completed the first supersonic trans-continental flight in a Vought F8U-3P Crusader from Los Alamitos, Calif. to New York.

Reportedly, Glenn's plane flew over New Concord, creating a sonic boom that caused a child to run to the Glenn house shouting "Johnny dropped a bomb! Johnny dropped a bomb! Johnny dropped a bomb!"

In the late 1950s, NASA was formed and Glenn was one of the original seven astronauts, along with Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra, Gordon Cooper and Deke Slayton.

On Feb. 20, 29162, Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth aboard Mercury-Atlas spacecraft Friendship 7. He circled the globe three times in 4 hours, 55 minutes. He was the third American and fifth human being in space.

I recall his historic feat. I was in third grade -- Gene-va Roll was the teacher -- at South Elementary School in New Philadelphia, and we listened to the launch on the radio. The school was razed in the late 1970s.

Glenn's first words when he become weightless in orbit were "Zero G, and I feel fine."

A month after his orbital flight at a parade at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Glenn was awarded the NASA Distinguished Service Medal by President John F. Kennedy. A year and a half later, Kennedy was assassinated.

In the mid-1970s, Glenn was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served until 1999. He ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984, and although he was a popular candidate, he lost to Walter Mondale.

In 1983, the movie "The Right Stuff," about the original seven Mercury astronauts, was released. In 1998 at age 77, Glenn became the oldest man to fly in space when he was a payload specialist on a shuttle Discovery mission.

This summer, Port Columbus International Airport was officially christened John Glenn Columbus International Airport. At the ceremony, he related how visiting that airport as a child inspired his interest in flying.

After the Oct. 10, 2013 passing of Scott Carpenter, Glenn became the last surviving member of the Mercury 7. Now none remain, but Glenn leaves a huge legacy. He was a true American hero.

Email: klahmers@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189