The original Mercury astronauts were selected in part because of their flying experience. Schirra was too young to fly during World War II, although he did serve in its final few months as an ensign. It was the Korean War where he really made his mark, flying dozens of combat missions, downing and damaging enemy MiG jets. From there, it was a natural leap into being a test pilot, testing cutting-edge airplanes and weapons systems. Schirra kept his flying record back to the very beginning of his career.
Neither NASA nor the astronauts expected the tidal wave of fame that came with the announcement of America’s first astronauts in 1959. None would fly in space for another two years, and yet they instantly became much-loved American heroes, with fascination about their personal lives as well as their work. Magazines such as LIFE magazine played up their All-American image for all it was worth, and Wally Schirra had many such examples in his personal collection from around the world, covering his entire space career.