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"We will never forget them nor the last time we saw them, as they prepared for their journey and waved good bye and... slipped the surly bonds of earth, to touch the face of God" - President Ronald Reagan, after the space shuttle Challenger disaster (Jan 28, 1986).
President Reagan took some of those words from this beautiful poem called "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 - 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 ever eagle flew -
And, while the silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
The young man who wrote this poem was John Gillespie Magee, Jr. During the Battle of Britain (summer and fall of 1940), while the U.S. was still officially neutral, many young American men would cross the border into Canada and enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force. John, age 18, was one of these brave men who, though breaking the law, crossed the border and volunteered to fight the Nazis. Within a year, he was sent to England and was qualified to fly the Supermarine Spitfire. In the skies over Britain and France, he battled the German Luftwaffe and quickly rose to the rank of Pilot Officer. In September of 1941, while John was test flying a newer model of the Spitfire V, he was inspired to write a poem about "touching the face of God." In a letter to his parents, he jotted down the two verses above.
On December 11, 1941, just three days after the U.S. joined the war, John was killed in a tragic collision with another fighter plane. A farmer testified that he saw the Spitfire pilot struggle to push back the canopy. The pilot (John) finally stood up to jump from the plane. He was, however, too close to the ground for his parachute to open and he died instantly. John was 19 years old.
John Gillespie Magee, Jr. is the hero of the day because he gave his life for freedom. Take a moment to silently thank God for all the men and women throughout history who've given their lives for freedom. Freedom is never free... John paid the price.