Occasionally world events bring to the forefront remarkable people who write their experience large upon our own. World War Two, for example, brought out many who may have otherwise lived in obscurity. Poet and Spitfire pilot John Gillespie Magee Jr. was such a man.
Born in China to missionaries, his father an American and his mother British, he returned to North America just in time to see the outbreak of war. Electing not to continue his education, he volunteered in the Royal Canadian Air Force in October 1940.
By June 30th 1941 he was posted to 412 Squadron, RCAF at RAF Digby in Lincolnshire, where this pilot officer qualified to fly the Spitfire.
Before he died in a mid-air collision over England, December 11th, 1941 he left us this poem which has been adopted by many in theater, aviation and even President Ronald Reagan eulogizing the seven Challenger astronauts lost this month 32 years ago.
I was asked to record it and so have done so.
Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of; wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sun-lit silence.
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air;
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,
Where never lark nor even eagle flew;
And while, with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.