U.S. Air Force Photo. F-18 Fighter.

High Flight

By John Gillespie Magee Jr.

I'm sure you have seen this famous poem, "High Flight " before...most pilots have.

It was written by RCAF Flight-Lieutenant John Gillespie Magee Jr. (1922-1941).

According to speculation, he died in the Battle of Britain.

The poem then becomes near prophetic.

He went Home, where most of us will only speculate.

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
windswept 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.


I have no big message. I let the message speak. But, I would like to share some beauty with you. For a long time, I couldn't find it. It's like losing your sense of humor. Real bad news. Then I did. I found the beauty again. Here it is.

I asked myself: Who are you? Have you ever done the same? Sometimes, we have to define who we are, what we do, when we're going to get there; and where we're going. Basic maintenance.

The beauty I'm sharing with you is part of this maintenance. Maybe the tools of understanding will work for you, too. If not, enjoy the warm fuzzies, and the photography. For those of us who have been there; it's war stories. War stories are how we define each other.

For those who have not shared the experience; enjoy them anyway. That's the biggest problem I have sharing stories. We have to find something which we both know, or both are; then proceed from there. I promise I will try to do that, for all of us.

As a Medical Specialist who monitored Pilots Flight Physicals in the USAF; I had a difficult time understanding them, until one was kind enough to share this poem with me. Then, we knew each other. We found a very deep commonality; which was anything but common. I partied with them, told jokes with them; got sorrowful when we lost someone and watched the process of them girding their courage to go out and do it again; facing their mortality.

The American soldier is no different from their civilian brothers and sisters; but for a very elusive thing: an underlying pure nobility which only comes from placing yourself in harms way. I thought for a long time they were going out for "Mom, and apple pie". No, it goes much deeper than that. They went out time after time, under tremendous odds; often without recognition - for love.

Oh, you can't talk about it. That's part of the code. Loving was defined in the physical, apparently. I've watched them drink until they had to be carried to their rack; chasing every member of the opposite sex in single minded devotion. But no, none would talk openly about how much they loved their 'birds', or their family, or those they worked with every day. It was demonstrated in little ways: In the soft caress along the wing, as they checked the aircraft before 'strapping it on'. In the salute they gave the mechanics, as they 'lit the burners'. In the thumbs up and grin I would get when the paperwork was cleared for another 'day at the office'. In the protective pride they showed, walking their family to the commissary.

Nobody died. They 'augured in'; or 'screwed the pooch'. I listened once to a young pilot who was out: out of everything. Out of power from a flame out. out of control through no hydraulics. Out of everything but an absolute dedication to trying to understand why, and communicate it. As I recall it, his last words went like this: "I've tried A, and B, and C. Is there anything I haven't tried?" The CO said: "Bail, dammit!" We heard a 'crump' from the speaker. That was the last we heard from him. As the CO walked out he muttered: "Dumb Bastard!" But, tears were rolling down his face when he said it.

I've also watched some members of the public treat these people as pariahs. Something to be vilified; because they 'lost' a 'conflict'. I watched the statistic climb from suicide. There were more dead from suicide after coming 'home' to this treatment than were lost in the 'conflict'. War is not a sports contest.

What is the answer? Could I share some?

We have developed a science for everything; except loving each other. We get the physical confused with the real thing. We vilify the messenger, when we don't like the message. We treat 'politics' as something real, when it is not. Real politics is loving each other. Then, we have no need for our current definition. Most of the current politicians should wash their hands, often. The media should be holding the soap. Then, they should change places.

Finally, there is only one solution: forgiveness.

All of us to all of you: We forgive you. Now, forgive yourselves. Then, we are healed together; because truly - we are not different at all. If you can find it in your hearts; forgive us too; for being human. I tell everyone: "Have you seen my perfect pills? If you have, please return them."

Please enjoy this collection of communication and love. I have combined the military mind at its most intimate; not as 'baby killers', but as your brothers and sisters. The first is prophecy, but not military. The second is reality.

Do we need to define reality for each other? If so, let's begin with something we can agree on. To most pilots in training, it was: "Let's begin with level flight." Please accept this, your first lesson in flight.

OK, if you weren't there, it looks like we're there to kill other people. I can assure you, that's not true. The pilots tried hard to pretend the targets were inanimate. In their hearts, they know that's not true. Most of the time, it's not talked about. All of us help each other. Despite all the training, thinking about it any other way will really mess up your day.

We know how mortal we are. By corrollary, we know how mortal all are. We're here to obey the politicians you have appointed as the definers of our reality. If you want to change our mission, tell them. That is the chain of command.

For you, the flight starts with your elected representatives,and goes up from there.

For us, it starts from the Commander in Chief. The President of the United States. Then, like all round things, our orders roll downhill to us. {Mathematicians consider the sphere perfert form.} When we receive the orders, only then can we take off. You set it up. Use it, or change it. Blaming us is blaming the messenger. We are not the message, nor do we make the message. I quit voting when I entered the military. I vote with my feet, for you.

Who's in control? God is. Level flight. Anything else is an illusion.

Oh, I'm sorry. For some people, that much truth is hard to take. I've been told before my lessons are sometimes too blunt. I'll try to be more subtle. No intention is present here at any time to hurt your feelings. Please forgive me, as I forgive you.

Recently, I had a conversation with a Minister; who asked me to justify myself for being a Vet. There is no justification. I am not responsible for this Minister's apparent perception that I am 'guilty' for being a Vet. He is responsible for his thoughts and actions, as I am; and you. Those who have not placed themselves in harm's way should pass on the love we gave you. If you're not a Minister, pass it on anyway. It will come back to you.

They loved you. They showed you how. What is there you don't understand? You do? Great! Welcome! Consider yourself hugged. We are One. Welcome to your first lesson in flight.

"Let's begin with level flight".
-- Richard Bach, Fighter Pilot and Author: "Jonathan Livingston Seagull."

Return to Love War and Peace Stories Home Page

Go forward One to the Stealth Gallery

This document was created using FlexED