Vice President Joe Biden paid tribute to legendary astronaut John Glenn at his funeral on Saturday afternoon, declaring that the former senator “defined what it meant to be an American” because of his relentless optimism and love for his country.
“He was always about promise,” said Biden in Glenn’s home state of Ohio. “We were a country of possibilities, opportunity — always a belief in tomorrow.”
Thousands of mourners attended the memorial at the Ohio State University in Columbus. Glenn, who became the first American to orbit the Earth and later went on to serve four terms in the U.S. Senate, died Dec. 8 at the age of 95.
Speaking directly to Glenn’s wife, Annie, Biden — who at one point became choked up — also praised his former Senate colleague for treating all people fairly throughout his life.
“Together, you and John taught us that a good life is built not on a single historic act or multiple acts of heroism — but in a thousand little things. A thousand little things have built character. Treating everyone with dignity and respect," he said.
Biden then recounted how Glenn would greet a shoe shine man in the restroom with a hug and a pat on the shoulder. “Understanding that despite fame and position, everybody was John’s equal,” said the vice president, who stood behind Glenn’s casket, which was draped in an American flag.
Several dignitaries and former lawmakers also attended the service, including Gov. John Kasich and former Govs. Ted Strickland and Richard Celeste.
“John Glenn was one of our own — a native son who never forgot his hometown roots. He truly was one of Ohio’s & the nation’s greatest heroes,” tweeted Kasich on Saturday.
Members of the public and other government officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, also paid their respects to Glenn during a public viewing at the statehouse Rotunda on Friday.
Officials said Glenn, who became the oldest human to venture into space at the age of 77, will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in a private ceremony in the spring.