In 1962, John Glenn, a former Marine fighter pilot, became the first American to orbit the earth. He was a true American hero, leaving behind an enduring legacy of courage. However, his wife Annie has her own legacy.
John Glenn and Annie Castor grew up together in the small town of New Concord, Ohio (1). John was a well-loved and admired athlete around town; but Annie, on the other hand, was fighting her own silent battle. According to a 2016 CNN article by Bob Greene, Annie suffered from a severe stutter~so severe, in fact, that it was categorized as an 85% disability (1). At school, her classmates often laughed at her, and at home, she could not even utter “hello” to answer the phone.
But somebody she had known her whole life loved her anyway. His name was John. As Bob Greene writes, “Even as a boy he was wise enough to understand that people who could not see past her stutter were missing out on knowing a rare and wonderful girl” (1).
On April 6, 1943, John and Annie were married (1). As John’s military career frequently moved them to new places with new people, Annie struggled deeply. Sadly, as she once told People magazine, these frequent moves brought on tremendous heartache for her: “I can remember some very painful experiences–especially the ridicule. People would tell me to hurry up or start shouting at me because they thought I was deaf or dumb” (2).
In her personal life, Annie’s stutter often inhibited her everyday activites, such as going to the store, traveling, eating out at restaurants, and even caring for her children (2). According to an article by the Washington Post, when Annie’s daughter once stepped on a nail, she could not make the 911 call herself; instead, she had to ask a neighbor to call for her (3).
John Glenn poignantly writes about his wife’s struggle:
“For Annie, stuttering meant not being able to take a taxi because she would have to write out the address and give it to the driver because she couldn’t get the words out. It would be too embarrassing to try to talk about where she wanted to go. Going to the store is a tremendously difficult and frustrating experience when you can’t find what you want and can’t ask the clerk because you are too embarrassed of your stutter” (3).
Annie faced many obstacles in her public life as well. The normal stresses of life in the spotlight were exaggerated by her disability. When the wives of the Mercury astronauts were invited to speak on a televison special, Annie turned down the offer. . .a decision which she later regretted (2).
In 1973, after battling her stutter for nearly fifty years, Annie Glenn found hope in a new speech therapy program based out of the Hollins Communications Research Institute in Virginia (1, 3). For three weeks, Annie practiced her breathing and studied how sounds were formed by intentionally pronouncing syllables slowly, beginning with two seconds per syllable and eventually reaching a normal speaking rate by the end of therapy (1). After three weeks, Annie was speaking fluently. Although speech therapy does not have this miraculous effect on everyone, speech therapy truly changed Annie Glenn’s life.
Annie’s newly found voice gave her a whole new confidence and a desire to help others who stutter. She eventually gave her very first full-length speech to 300 people in Canton, Ohio, and also spoke on behalf of her husband several times, who was then serving as an Ohio senator (1). In addition to her public speaking, Annie made the admirable decision to become an adjunct speech pathology professor for Ohio State University (3). In addition, the American Speech and Hearing Association awarded her their first national award in 1983 and later went on to create the Annie Glenn Award in her honor (3).
Throughout their marriage, John Glenn offered nothing but love and support for his wife. He reflects, “I saw Annie’s perseverance and strength through the years and it just made me admire her and love her even more” (4).
This final quote, however, might really pull at your heart strings, as it did mine. The love and admiration that John Glenn had for his wife is so beautifully evidenced by his words:
“We tend to think of heroes as being those who are well known, but America is made up of a whole nation of heroes who face problems that are very difficult, and their courage remains largely unsung. Millions of individuals are heroes in their own right. In my book, Annie is one of those heroes.”
(1) Greene, Bob. “John Glenn’s True Hero.” CNN. http://edition.cnn.com/2012/02/19/opinion/greene-john-annie-glenn/index.html
(2) The Stuttering Foundation. “Annie Glenn.” http://www.stutteringhelp.org/content/annie-glenn
(3) Andrews, Travis M. “Annie Glenn: ‘When I Called John, He Cried. People Just Couldn’t Believe That I Could Really Talk.'” The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/12/09/to-john-glenn-the-real-hero-was-his-wife-annie-conqueror-of-disability/?utm_term=.b9af73fc6289
(4) The Stuttering Foundation. “Annie Glenn a Real Hero and Inspiration.”