PALM CITY _ Fifty years ago Monday, millions of Americans sat in front of their console televisions watching as John Glenn piloted the Mercury spacecraft Friendship 7 around the earth three times.
Palm City resident Bartley Fugler watched the historic moment on the television in John Glenn's living room in Arlington, Va., with the astronaut's wife, Annie Glenn, and her children beside him.
Fugler was director of security for NASA when he met John Glenn in 1961, during the formative years of the space program. He was assigned the special detail of providing security for Glenn and the two became close friends.
Fugler was at many launches, but for this historic flight he was assigned to handle security at the Glenn family home. Time magazine was there along with more newspaper people than the modest ranch home could accommodate.
After many delays, the moment of liftoff came and Annie Glenn let out a noise Fugler described as something between a scream and a moan.
"That was her husband, ya' know, she was afraid something was going to happen to him," Fugler said.
Fugler was nervous, too, he said, but he never let on to Glenn's family.
Although warning lights indicated a potential heat shield problem, the flight ended with a successful splashdown in just under five hours. After the historic flight and days of debriefing, Fugler talked with Glenn about his experience.
Although Glenn might have been nervous or afraid, Fugler said the astronaut never showed it, often joking he was in a rocket made by the lowest bidder.
Fugler said when mission control advised Glenn of the heat shield problem, "he said, 'Alright, then let's get on with it.'"
"He's a test pilot, a dare devil," Fugler said. "He is a different breed altogether."
After the flight, Fugler was in charge of the security detail for the ticker tape parade in New York City. Fugler described throngs of people at every door of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel where he and Glenn were staying. Everyone — movie stars and politicians included — wanted to meet Glenn, Fugler said. He was a hero.
Fugler said for years afterward, he and Glenn couldn't go out to dinner or anywhere without people approaching the space pioneer. The two friends stayed in touch long after they both left the space program.
Fugler worked on Glenn's presidential campaign in the early 1980s, but also had a fascinating career of his own in the Secret Service, with NASA and in his own security business. Through his business, he met many historic figures, including Walt Disney and Presidents Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy and Dwight Eisenhower.
But Glenn is one Fugler calls a friend.
"He is a great person, a religious man, a good family man," Fugler said.