Remembering an American hero’s connection to St. Louis

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ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – The death of astronaut John Glenn is being remembered by workers at Boeing. Glenn’s Mercury spacecraft was built by McDonnell Aircraft, which is now Boeing.

Glenn, the first American to enter space and orbit the Earth, died Thursday at 95.

“He was basically the face of the space program in Mercury,” said Norman Beckel, a Mercury engineer.

Beckel, 85, is retired and lives in St. Charles County. Beckel said he worked closely with John Glenn on Project Mercury whenever Glenn visited McDonnell Aircraft in St. Louis.

The Friendship 7 was designed and built in St. Louis.

The Friendship 7 was designed and built in St. Louis.

“They were test pilots; they very inquisitive, obviously they wanted to know what was going on because when they were in space they were all along,” Beckel said.

Beckel worked on the spacecraft’s communications system. He said Glenn had a full life and that he was a good man.

“He was a sincere human being, there was no arrogance in him at all. I don’t think he had a mean bone in his body,” Beckel said. “He liked to laugh; he could tell a joke, he could take a joke. He was just the all-American kid, he really was.”

Henry Brownlee, a Boeing historian, said Glenn taught the McDonnell company important lessons that are still used by Boeing to this day.

“Get to know your customer, get their input about how to build, and what to build for their product make sure it’s made right the first time,” Brownlee said. “He lived that; he taught that.”

Beckel and Glenn reunited at NASA a few years ago when it celebrated the 50th anniversary of Glenn’s trip into space.

Beckel said Glenn paid himself and his fellow engineers a big compliment.

“He looked at us, the title of the thing was, ‘On the Shoulders of Giants.’ He said, ‘I want you to know these guys down here,’ pointing at us, ‘McDonnell, NASA, General Dynamics engineers pulled this off,’ it was pretty nice.”