Meeting the rocket man

Wantagh veteran remembers John Glenn’s return from space


Raymond Cody, a 75-year-old Wantagh resident, was a 20-year-old seaman on the USS Noa on Feb. 20, 1962 when astronaut John Glenn returned to Earth after orbiting the planet three times during the height of the Space Race with the Soviet Union. Although his team was assigned to the recovery flotilla, Cody never expected to see the capsule come down from the sky and splash into the Atlantic Ocean, cheer as Glenn climbed out onto the deck of the destroyer and bear witness to a significant moment in American history. 

“It didn’t really feel like we were making history,” Cody recalled. “You were just doing your job — getting the deck clear and making sure everything was in working order. When you’re young, you take everything for granted.” 

Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. Just before the 55th anniversary of Glenn’s mission on Monday, Cody perused a scrapbook that his father, Willis, made for him to remember his Navy days and the historic event. 


A moment in history

Cody, who was born in the Bronx, enlisted in the Navy one year after he graduated from Baldwin High School. His father and brothers — Willis Jr. and Edward — were proud Navy officers, he said. Five months before Cody was assigned to the Noa, the Soviet Union launched the first human space mission; Yuri Gagarin successfully orbited Earth in April 1961.

Cody said that, of the 240 men stationed on the Noa, only 20 “came from above the Mason-Dixon line.” Therefore, he explained, he may be the only Long Islander alive who was aboard the ship with the crew that picked up Glenn’s capsule. 

Glenn’s flight took off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The Noa — which was based in Naval Station Mayport, Fla. — was sent 125 miles northwest of San Juan, Puerto Rico, for the astronaut’s splash-down.

Several ships sat 40 miles apart from one another in the Atlantic waiting for Friendship 7 to appear, but Cody said that the USS Randolph was expected to pick up the capsule. When the Noa crew heard a loud boom and saw the vessel floating toward them tethered to a parachute, they were caught off-guard. 

“We saw it just coming out of the sky, and there were no cameras in sight,” Cody recounted, noting that journalists were near the Randolph. “We weren’t exactly sure of what we were going to find when we opened that door. We didn’t know if he was going to be alive.” 

Cody grabbed his own camera, snapping pictures of his fellow Navy officers pulling the capsule aboard. According to the New Mexico Museum of Space History, Glenn was inside, carrying a note that read, “I am a stranger. I come in peace. Take me to your leader and there will be a massive reward for you in eternity” in several languages, in case he landed near southern Pacific Ocean islands. 

Most of the sailors anxiously stood several feet from the capsule as the door was opened, Cody said. When Glenn stepped onto the deck, they burst into applause.  

“You could see when he first got out that he was beat,” Cody recalled, “but it was amazing that he was in such good health. It was an exciting event.” 

After taking a few more photos of Glenn walking around the deck, Cody threw a few patches with the Noa insignia into the capsule so the world would know who picked up the astronaut. 

Linda Turano Cody, Raymond’s wife — who was a Baldwin High School student at the time — said that his neighbors and friends didn’t know that he was involved in the event that glued them to their television screens until years later. 

“I was so amazed when I found out that he was on the ship,” she said of her husband of 48 years. “People were very excited about it because [Glenn] was one of the first men in space, so people our age and a little younger are impressed by this story.” 


‘Being on your guard’ 

Cody, who is the treasurer and hall rental trustee for the Wantagh American Legion Post 1273, said that he has never told anyone in the group about his experience with Glenn. “We all see ourselves as military people, and you don’t talk much about your military experience,” he said. 

Cody felt it was important, however, to bring his sons, Chris and Timothy, to see the capsule at the Smithsonian Institution when they were young. He also plans to show his grandchildren — Olivia, Delila and Meta — his Navy album of photos, mementos and newspaper clippings. 

“History repeats itself,” Cody said. “If the world was a better place, you wouldn’t have to be on your guard like you have to be today. It seems like cooler heads are prevailing, though, and I’m glad my sons never had to serve in combat zones.” 

Cody spent four years in the Navy. In May 1962, he was transferred to the USS Harwood — a destroyer stationed off Puerto Rico as part of the military blockade to prevent Soviet missiles from entering Cuba. Historians consider the 13-day Cuban Missile Crisis  the closest the Cold War came to escalating into a full-scale nuclear battle. 

“I remember having Russian ships in front of us, and we were all just standing in the water, waiting for the next move,” Cody said. “People wondered, ‘Are they going to fire on us? Are we going to fire on them?’ Nothing bothered me, and I was ready to fight.” 

After Cody got out of the service, he returned home to Baldwin and married Linda in 1968. They moved to Wantagh in 1977. Raymond studied accounting at SUNY Farmingdale, going on to work at the Long Island Lighting Company for 35 years. 

Years later, he said, he realized the significance of the Cold War moments — which he described as a “pins-and-needles period” — that he witnessed. “You didn’t know what was going to happen from one day to the next,” he said. “It always kept you on your toes a bit. But you knew that older people had been through World War II and Korea … being on your guard was part of growing up.”