Westbury Inspired John Glenn To Take Flight

The author (right) with astronaut and Senator John Glenn, who passed away this week.
The author (right) with astronaut and Senator John Glenn, who passed away this week.

By Adam Sackowitz 

On the morning of May 20, 1927, 25 year old U.S. Air Mail Pilot Charles Lindbergh left the Garden City Hotel and headed the short distance to Westbury’s Roosevelt Field, as a crowd of over 500 onlookers greeted the young pilot, as he prepared to make history.

The field was named not for President Theodore Roosevelt who called Oyster Bay, Long Island, home, but for son Quentin Roosevelt, who took flying lessons in Mineola, Long Island. Quentin would make the ultimate sacrifice, as the young 20 year old United States Army Air Service pilot lost his life in aerial combat over France during the First World War in July 1918.

During the late 1920s, Long Island, NY, was nationally known as the “Cradle of Aviation,” and the new aviation industry boomed on Long Island due to its level terrain and its close proximity to New York City.

Long Island Aviation historian Joshua Stoff writes that, “By 1910 there were three airfields operating on the Hempstead Plains, and Long Islanders were now building their own airplanes. Several flying schools and aircraft factories also sprang up and Long Island became the center of the aviation world.”

Little would Lindbergh know, as his famed Spirit of St. Louis lifted off the ground and cleared telephone wires on that momentous May morning, that a plumbing family from the small village of New Concord, Ohio named the Glenn family, was keeping a close eye on him and the Long Island airfield that got him off the ground.

After Lindbergh’s successful 33 1/2 hour non-stop flight from New York-Paris,  Lindbergh was heralded as a national hero and for that moment in time, the world stopped and drew its attention to Lindbergh and the “Cradle of Aviation.”

The young son of John Glenn, Sr. and Clara Glenn would become hooked on flying at a young age. John Glenn in his 1999 memoir would state, “Everybody knew about Charles Lindnergh’s flight…When Lindy came home, the papers chronicled his every move. Dad had read that he would be flying by Cambridge and New Concord on his way to Columbus, and soon after that we were on a farm outside of town when a silver plane flying west passed over head. I’d always imagined it was him.”

The freckled faced boy nicknamed “Bud” in the years to come would become an expert builder of model  airplanes and two years after Lindbergh’s 1927 flight, young John would take his first flight in an open-cockpit Waco biplane with his father outside Cambridge, Ohio.

As a U.S. Marine Corps Pilot in 1943, Glenn would have the opportunity to meet his childhood hero Charles Lindbergh, as the “Lone Eagle” served as a technical advisor for Vought Aircraft. Glennauthor Frank Van Riper writes in his book the Astronaut Who Would be Presidnet that, “Glenn would have a glimpse of his future in the person of Charles Lindbergh, to whom he would be compared after his orbital space flight….”

As a lifelong resident of Long Island, I knew from an early age of the importance of Roosevelt Field and Charles Lindbergh’s Transatlantic Flight. As an undergraduate student at Hofstra University in 2012,  I became dismayed when I learned that the historic takeoff site was on the auction block and the Lindbergh Monument was threatened by development. I successfully encouraged the Town of Hempstead to preserve the site and in 2013 it was declared a Town Landmark. In October, 2014 when I met Senator Glenn for the first time he asked me where I was from and I was proud to say, “Westbury, NY, where Charles Lindbergh began his Transatlantic Flight from.” Senator Glenn smiled.

I am currently writing my graduate thesis on the life and legacy of Senator Glenn and have taken up a new project to preserve Senator Glenn’s birthplace home in Cambridge, OH.

As the nation mourns the passing of a true American hero, astronaut and Senator John Glenn, one thing is certain, the John Glenn story is not just an Ohio story, but a Long Island story. I can attest to that first hand. Long Island played an important role in inspiring “John Glenn to Take Flight.”

Adam Sackowitz is a lifelong resident of Westbury, NY, and spearheaded the preservation effort of the Lindbergh Monument and Transatlantic Takeoff Site in 2012, which resulted in the Town of Hempstead designating the site as a town landmark. Sackowitz is currently a graduate student studying Public History at St. John’s University and is writing his graduate thesis on the life and legacy of John Glenn. Sackowitz is currently working with community leaders in Cambridge, OH, on the preservation of the Glenn Birthplace.

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