News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 21, 2014

After the splash

When John Glenn landed in the Atlantic after historic spaceflight, Terre Haute man was aboard rescue ship

Howard Greninger
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — As Wilma Bennett Rascoe read a newspaper article Thursday, a flood of memories from Feb. 20, 1962 filled her thoughts.

Fifty-two years ago on that day, she was sitting at her desk in the equipment room at AT&T’s Jacksonville, Fla., office. A fellow worker told her that the television monitor was showing the U.S.S. Noa, the ship her late husband Charles Bennett was aboard.

“I had cold chills then and still do whenever I talk about it,” said Bennett Rascoe, 85, a Vigo County native who returned to Terre Haute in 2012.

Seaman Charles Bennett had a personal view of history as the naval destroyer plucked Marine Lt. Col. John H. Glenn Jr., a project Mercury astronaut who later became a U.S. senator, from the Atlantic Ocean.

Glenn had just become the first American to orbit the earth.

The Noa picked up Glenn 21 minutes after the space capsule “Friendship 7” made splashdown into the Atlantic near Grand Turk Island.

“To think that little ship, that destroyer, was picking up Glenn when they had several ships out there at the same time. The aircraft carrier, I think, was supposed to pick him up, but Glenn landed in the wrong place,” Bennett Rascoe said.

When Bennett returned for a brief shore leave, he told his wife that his ship’s captain made sure the U.S.S. Noa would get Glenn.

The captain had radioed a circling helicopter “to get the ‘H’ out, because his ship was picking him  [Glenn] up,” Bennett Rascoe said. “When Glenn came on the ship, crew members painted circles around his footsteps where Glenn came aboard,” she said.

Those footprints were later made into a plaque, she said, which is now with the president of a reunion association of the U.S.S. Noa, a group Bennett Rascoe started to organize in 1990. The group has met annually since its first meeting in 1992, in different cities nationwide, from the East Coast to the West Coast “and as far north as Buffalo, N.Y.,” Bennett Rascoe said.

“I don’t have it now, but I did for years have a flag that was flying over the ship when they picked up John Glenn,” Bennett Rascoe said. “The president of our reunion association now has that.”

The reunion this year will be April 23-27 in Charleston, S.C. “I am not going to make that reunion this year. I also have to resign my secretary position,” Bennett Rascoe said, as it is too much to send out future reunion notification letters by hand.

“I still keep in contact personally with a lot of people who served on the ship,” she said.

Charles and Wilma Bennett were married in 1946 in Terre Haute. Charles was born and raised on North First Street in Terre Haute, while Wilma was born and raised in Youngstown, south of Terre Haute. Bennett was a Seabee in the Navy in the early 1940s and later returned to the Navy, serving on a tanker and then the U.S.S Noa. Bennett died in 1981 at age 56.

In 1984, Wilma married Elmer Rascoe. He died in 2002. Charles Bennett and Elmer Rascoe each served as Seabees, Wilma said, and each underwent Naval training at about the same time in Virginia. But “They didn’t know each other when they were in training,” Bennett Rascoe said.

The 92-year-old Glenn earlier this month received a unique recognition as the military christened a Navy logistics ship in his honor in San Diego at General Dynamics’ National Steel and Shipbuilding Company. Also present where his wife and daughter.

The 785-foot USNS John Glenn is a Mobile Landing Platform ship — a new type of amphibious staging and assault vessel, the second one ordered by the Navy to quickly transport troops and supplies to shore.

Glenn served in the U.S. Senate from the state of Ohio from 1974 to 1998.

In 1998, Glenn returned to space, becoming the oldest person to fly in space. He served as a payload specialist aboard the space shuttle Discovery at the age of 77. He participated in experiments on the aging process and the effects of spaceflight.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.