John Magee, John Denver, and High Flight

John Magee began composing the poem “High Flight” while flying a Spitfire 30,000 feet over England in 1941.   He finished it after landing and mailed it to his parents.

John Denver loved flying and was the son of a U.S. Air Force test pilot.  John Denver set John Magee’s poem to music.  Watch and listen on U-tube.  As a bonus, he’s chatting with Bob Hope during the introduction.  “High Flight” is also available, in several color and black-and-white versions, on U-tube.

John Gillespie Magee, Jr., enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1940.  John had just turned 18. Hitler’s army was bombing England.  The United States wanted to stay out of the war, but some Americans thought it was time to join the fight against the Nazi onslaught.  John had a special reason to do that because of many happy times with his grandmother in England.

John’s story is well told, with illustrations, in the book High Flight by Linda Granfield.

The pilots needed in England were trained in Canada because German bombing made it almost impossible to practice there.  By the end of September, 1941, when John finished training in Canada and was shipped to England, the Battle of Britain had been won and English pilots were fighting the Germans in France.  John fought his first air battle near Dunkirk, France, in November.  

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States entered the war.

On December 11, John was practicing wing formation flying in England.   As he descended through a layer of clouds, he collided with a plane below him and was killed instantly.

A few weeks before, he had sent the poem to his parents and a local newspaper published it.  It was published again after his death, with a lament for the fallen, and in his parents’ church bulletin.  Copies of the poem with John’s portrait and a drawing of his plane, a Spitfire, were sent to every airfield in the British Empire.

Over the next four years, while World War II dragged on, John’s poem gave war-weary civilians, soldiers and pilots, words that lifted their spirits, words that spoke of the glories of flight, not the ravages of war.  His words inspired hope and courage.

In 1944, Johns brother Christopher, a sixteen-year-old in the Combat Merchant Marine, stood on an oil tanker deck and heard actor Orson Welles’s voice on the loudspeaker:  “I now want to recite for you what I believe to be the finest poem to come out of this war…”

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 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 wind-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.

You will find “High Flight” printed in air cadet handbooks.  Apollo 15 pilot James Irwin carried a copy to the moon.  It’s quoted on headstones in Arlington National Cemetery.  President Ronald Reagan quoted it after the death of seven astronauts on the Challenger.

 

What Terrorism Feels Like

I am Malala, and this is my story…

Terrorism is fear all around you.  It is going to sleep at night and not knowing what horrors the next day will bring.  It is huddling with your family in the center-most room in your home because you have all decided it is the safest place to be.  It is walking down your own street and not knowing whom you can trust.  Terrorism is the fear that when your father walks out the door in the morning he won’t come back at night. ..

And since I had been in the kitchen both times there were [bomb] blasts near our house, I stayed as far from that room as possible.  But how can a person live when she is afraid of a room in her own home?  How can a mother buy food for her family if the market is a war zone?  How can children gather for a game of cricket if a bomb could go off under their feet?”

Malala was 15, in ninth grade, in 2012 when Taliban soldiers shot her in the head because she spoke out for the right of girls to go to school.

In December, 2014, Malala received the Nobel Peace Prize for her stand against extremism and her coinntued fight for the right to education.

“On my eighteenth birthday, I returned to the Syrian border to open a school in Lebanon for refugee children and to demand that world leaders invest in books, not bullets.”

In her autobiography, Malala tells about her childhood, the international team that saved her life when she was shot, her long recovery, and her fight for education.

“It is people’s love and encouragement that gives me the energy to continue my fight.  I will never give up on advocating for peace and education for all.  I want to build schools and make sure there are qualified teachers in as many places as I can.  That is something else that hasn’t changed:  I am the same stubborn girl who will never give up.”

The Sugihara Story

I was five years old.

In 1940 my father was a diplomat, representing the country of Japan.  Our family lived in a small town in the small country called Lithuania…one early morning in late July, my life changed forever…

“There are a lot of people outside,” my mother said.  ‘We don’t know what is going to happen…They have come to ask for your father’s help…Unless we help, they may be killed or taken away by some bad men.”

My father said to my mother, “I have to do something.  I may have to disobey my government, but if I don’t, I will be disobeying God.”

Back then, I did not fully understand what [my father] had done, or why it was so important.

I do now.

Hiroki Sugihara tells about the weeks when his father wrote permits for several thousand Jews to travel across Russia to Japan.  That was the only direction these people could go to escape from the Nazis who wanted to kill them.  If they could take a train all the way across Russia, and a ship to Japan, they could go on to other countries and live safely.

The Japanese government ordered Mr. Sugihara not to write the travel permits.  Mr. Sugihara knew he could be punished, but he wrote permit after permit, day after day, until he was sent away from Lithuania.

Hiroki Sugihara, who wrote Passage to Freedom, was that five-year-old boy.