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Filing Cabinet - Pearl Harbor

High Flight

There were a number of American pilots who fought in England prior to the U.S. entrance into World War II.  In December 1941, Pilot Officer John G. Magee, a nineteen year old American serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force in England, and son of missionary parents, was killed when his Spitfire collided with another airplane inside a cloud.  Several months before his death, he wrote this poem, a copy of which he mailed to his mother in the United States, and that has been a favorite of aviators ever since.

On January 28, 1942, Cornelia Fort prepared to leave Honolulu to take the dangerous journey across the ocean by ship to the mainland, and she made out her will and wrote to her mother.  She said that if she should die before her time, she would not want anyone to grieve for her.  “I was happiest in the sky—at dawn when the quietness of the air was like a caress, when the noon sun beat down and at dusk when the sky was drenched with the fading light.”   Cornelia Fort, WAFS pilot, the first woman pilot to die in service to her country, was killed when her plane crashed on March 21, 1943.   This poem by John Magee was later found in her scrapbook.

                        HIGH FLIGHT

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 —heeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence; hov’ring there,
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 win-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or 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.

By  Jon Gillespie Magee, Jr.
       Pilot Officer, RCAF—1941

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