PRAVDA: Yuri Gagarin was not the first cosmonaut.
Just the first who lived.
Glenn is referring to this,
According to Rudenko, spacecraft with pilots Ledovskikh, Shaborin and Mitkov at the controls were launched from the Kapustin Yar cosmodrome (in the Astrakhan region) in 1957, 1958 and 1959. “All three pilots died during the flights, and their names were never officially published,” Rudenko said. He explained that all these pilots took part in so-called sub- orbital flights, i.e., their goal was not to orbit around the earth, which Gagarin later did, but make a parabola-shaped flight. “The cosmonauts were to reach space heights in the highest point of such an orbit and then return to the Earth,” Rudenko said. According to his information, Ledovskikh, Shaborin and Mitkov were regular test pilots, who had not had any special training, Interfax reports.
Contrast with this from Chuck Yeager‘s website:
TO NEW HEIGHTS
Now, a full colonel, Yeager returned to Edwards as deputy director of flight test in 1961. The following year he took over as commander of the new USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School (ARPS), where he presided over the development of a first-of-its-kind institution designed to prepare U.S. military test pilots for spaceflight. Building on the existing test pilot school curriculum, ARPS offered rigorous, graduate-level training in subjects such as astrophysics and orbital mechanics, and it employed a one-of-a-kind flight simulator and other state-of-the-art training systems that prepared students to master an entirely new frontier beyond the atmosphere. The school was swamped with applicants and only the best and brightest—1% by Yeager’s estimate—were granted admission. The excellence of the training provided during the school’s ten-years of operation (1961-71) can be surmised by the fact that 37 graduates were selected for the U.S. space program and 26 earned astronaut’s wings by flying in the Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle programs. Although Yeager never got a chance to fly in space, in his role as mentor to a whole generation of spaceflight pioneers, he made an important contribution to its exploration. It remains one of his proudest achievements.
Chuck Yeager, an individual, could have never been allowed to inspire others in the Soviet space machine. The absurd notion that untrained men would be shot into space from a rocket was the sort of thing that inherently would bring about the Soviet’s failure in the space race.
I highly recommend Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff for an exciting account of the men and the times.