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A Journey through Space and Time

Last Friday, April 26th, 2013, I made a trip of about 250 miles, the distance between my home in North Carolina and the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.    This particular journey, however, had its true origins nearly 73 years ago on an airfield in Llandow, Wales.  On a September day in 1941, a pilot wrote a letter to his parents.  In many ways, this letter was what you could expect from a young man serving in combat, nothing really earth-shaking, just general news and happenings.  The pilot did include a poem; a sonnet, really, something written for his parents, particularly his father.  Again, nothing special, he called it a “ditty.”

This young man would have never, in his wildest dreams, suspected what would ultimately become of that letter and sonnet.  How could he have known that he had succeeded in capturing lightning in a bottle?  The young pilot had managed to distill what it meant to fly, and committed it to paper.  He included the resulting sonnet in a letter to his parents, dated September 3rd, 1941.

The author, John Gillespie Magee, Jr., and his sonnet, “High Flight,” would come to be read and heard by millions of people around the world.  To the present day, “High Flight” continues to inspire.

My own journey had begun when I first heard the poem on television in the 1970s.  Accompanied by music and a jet cavorting with the clouds, a voice recited this amazing poem.  I was entranced.  In 1990, I took on the task of finding out all I could about the author, and bringing his story to the world.  This journey has taken me thousands of miles, introduced me to hundreds of people, and finally took me to the source.  The ultimate source, you might say.  The original letter containing “High Flight” that John Magee wrote to his parents.

The years have not been kind to the letter.  It has been publicly exhibited at least twice; the first at the Library of Congress starting in February 1942, and the second time by the US Air Force Museum in 1975.  It has been copied, perhaps several times, being subjected to very bright light each time.  And so, much more than other letters written during that period, the original letter is barely legible.  But it can be read.

I was allowed to view the original letter only after pleading my case many times.  My efforts paid off last Friday, when I was allowed by Dr. Alice Birney to view the letter.  I couldn’t touch it, since it was in a special case and further protected by special plastic.  But… I got as close to it as anybody will be able to from here on out, as the Library of Congress is taking special precautions to limit exposure to even regular light.

And so… my journey has taken me to this spot, to see the very letter that has inspired me and millions of other people.  And now I can say that I have seen, with my own eyes, John Magee’s own summation of “slipping the surly bonds of earth” and “touching the face of God.”

And that, surely, is good enough.

HF Viewing

Dr. Alice Birney and I examine “High Flight.”


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1 reply

  1. Ray – Sorry I couldn’t get back to you earlier (I definitely look forward to buying several copies of your new book) but it has been an extremely busy week for me, with scarcely time to breathe, much less respond to e-mail (I’ve contracted with an illustrator for my six-book series based on my 1984 short story called EagleFlight, lost a close friend and fellow writer who had a PET only two weeks ago that “lit up like a Christmas Tree” and attended his two-hour service, had a 45-minute exam by my neurologist, and signed up to lose 60-pounds in twelve weeks – I’ve already lost ten of them in one week, and start a five-day “cleanse” tomorrow). I’m very glad that you got to Live one of your Dreams and hope that in the not too distant future, a way will be found to fully restore the letter so others can read the entire letter. It must have been extremely exciting for you. BTW, you can now follow me on Twitter @RussellLigeikis but I have little idea of what I’m doing. I only know that according to every expert on writing I need to have a Facebook account and Twitter account in order to effectively market my works. I am following everyone on FoxNews, NASA and a few others. I looked for you but couldn’t find your account (if you have one). For now, I’ve got to get back to Groundling! The more often I read it, the more errors I find. I still hope to send it to Amazon by the middle of this month, but it will be a 250+ page book with several stories added that tie up loose ends and lead (in a sense) to the now seven-novel series and get started on my second book (Flyers-In-Spirit Hangar Flying Adventures in Microsoft FSX). BTW, I read “The Letter” to the Osher Lifetime Learning Institute Writers Group that includes several pilots. I told them about the book you’re writing and urged everyone to buy several copies if possible. The only comment the professional editor had was that I should maybe consider dropping the fictional character and just going with the fact-based story. I’m still toying with that one. Other than that, even she loved it. Diamond Chaser out.

    Date: Sun, 28 Apr 2013 21:51:33 +0000 To:

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