Boy or girl, living or dead, right or wrong, who would be considered the toughest Hoosier that ever walked the cornfields of Indiana? That’s a good question. So…I thought about it and thought about it and got sick of thinking about it and thought about it some more until I decided.
Gus Grissom hailed from Mitchell, Indiana, a small(ish) town in south central Indiana. As a boy, he’d sneak away between delivering IndianapolisStar newspapers or participating in the Boy Scouts to watch the planes come and go at a small airport in nearby Bedford, Indiana, (the Limestone Capital of the World).
He volunteered for service during World War II and became a trained aviator, although the war ended before he saw combat. Instead, he got married and took advantage of the GI Bill, attending Purdue University and earning a degree in mechanical engineering in three-and-a-half years.
After graduation, he re-enlisted and served during the Korean War, his one hundred combat missions earning him a Distinguished Flying Cross, an Air Medal…and the hope to fly some more. But the Air Force decided Grissom would better serve as an instructor than a combat pilot. He taught for a short period of time, then requested a transfer to a post in Dayton, Ohio, where he served as a test pilot for experimental fighter planes.
And completely unaware that the forefathers of America’s space program were looking in that exact profession for the first batch of astronauts.
In 1959, after almost being rejected for his allergies, Grissom became one of seven astronauts selected for Project Mercury, aptly named the ‘Mercury 7’.And that is the exact reason why he earned my vote for the toughest Hoosier ever. Not convinced? I understand. I might not be either. But we are sitting in relative comfort, casually scanning a posted article on a mobile device that contains more computing power than a thousand Apollo missions. Well, you are anyway. I’m working on writing this thing.