Poems of Faith and Freedom

Next month, February 2012, will mark the 70th anniversary of the exhibit that helped propel John Magee’s “High Flight” to national attention.

The exhibition was called “Poems of Faith and Freedom” and was put on by the Library of Congress.  The Libriarian of Congress, Archibald MacLeish, a poet himself, was responsible for the creation of the exhibit.  Along with High Flight were poems by Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae (“In Flanders Fields”) and Rupert Brooke (“The Soldier”).  I’m sure John Magee would have been thrilled to have his poem be shown alongside a poem written by his idol Rupert Brooke (Magee actually wrote a poem about Brooke, called, appropriately enough, “Sonnet to Rupert Brooke”).

In a press release, MacLeish declared “High Flight” to be the first great poem of this war.  (Keep in mind that this is February 1942, a mere two months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. )  MacCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” was one of the great poems from WWI.

Newspapers picked up on the press release, as well as the fact that John Magee, who was listed as a resident of Washington, D.C., had died just after Pearl Harbor.  “High Flight” was “discovered” and, in today’s terms, went viral.

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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.”

Inspiration

While I’ve been working on High Flight – The Movie, I’ve sought inspriration from many sources.  Sometimes it’s music, sometimes it’s movies, sometimes a wonderful letter.  I’d like to share some of what has inspired me.

Websites.  There is one website in particular which is wonderful.  When you go to it, turn up your speakers.  Brian is an enormously talented guy, somebody who knows all about taking your passion and flying with it!  I cannot recommend his "One Six Right" DVD enough…  it is amazing.  Get the soundtrack CD and companion volume "One Six Left" while you’re at it:    www.onesixright.com

Harrison Ford is Just Another Pilot, according to this wonderfully moving short video:  http://www.studiowings.com/video/hfjap.html

The Experimental Aircraft Association’s (EAA) annual meeting is known the world over as, simply, Oshkosh.   I’ve had the honor of speaking there a couple of years ago and am going to apply to speak there again this year.  This video neatly sums up Oshkosh (and, yes, it’s narrated by Harrison Ford): http://www.airventure.org/about/spirit_video.html

I won’t list my entire Zune (similar to an iPod) playlist here, but I will list some of my favorites. 

  • Classical Gas by Mason Williams is my all-time favorite piece of music
  • the entire soundtrack to One Six Right
  • Overture from Tommy (Assembled Multitude)
  • Theme from Harry’s Game (Clannad)
  • Dream On (Aerosmith);
  • High Flight and We Will Remember Them (sung by Dwayne O’Brien)
  • Introduction to The Rocketeer
  • Spirit, The Wings That Fly Us Home, and many others by John Denver
  • Until The Last Moment and many others by Yanni
  • 10,000 Miles (from the movie "Fly Away Home" sung my Mary Chapin Carpenter)

I’m sure there are others, but those are some of the highlights.

Resurrection!

Long ago I started this Blog, and then it languished for over a year.  Well, I decided it was high time to get it going again! 

I have transferred several years worth of News entries from the High Flight Productions website.  Don’t know why… but it does kind of give one an idea of what’s been happening.

What happened to the Blog is indicative of the entire project.  I have been swamped with work from my “day” job, and have neglected the script, the website, and everything else.  I cannot continue to let this be the case… and if what it takes is staying up late at night, so be it (for the record, it’s 20 minutes past midnight right now… and I’ve got an early wake-up… oh well!).

I don’t even know if anybody is going to read this, but what the heck.

Stay tuned… because I’m kick-starting the entire project!  It’s going to be a heck of a ride.

Past Entries – 2007

November:  If I thought May came quickly, then November really got here fast! 

I have re-written the script several times and am narrowing in on what I think is a great end result.  So stay tuned!

I continue to do research on Magee, his life and times.

May:  Can it be nearly the end of May already?  How time flies…  I have been working on the screenplay quite a bit, while continuing doing research on Magee.  I have acquired a complete copy of Magee’s RCAF logbook, and have discovered the exact date that he made a flight up to 33,000 feet (the letter to his parents which contained High Flight mentions that he was inspired to write the poem during a flight to 30,000 feet… an uncommon occurrence while at an Operational Training Unit).  The date?  August 18th, 1941.

I have also discovered a bit of trivia that I will share in the Interesting Facts area (above).  All I can say is: it’s a small world, and the Six Degrees of Seperation thing is really true! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six_degrees_of_separation)

I will be speaking on John Magee and High Flight at the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Fly-In, Arlington, Washington on Wednesday, July 11th and Thursday July 12th at noon, plus on Sunday July 15th at 10:30.  (www.nweaa.org)

I am very excited to have been selected to speak at the EAA AirVenture event at Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  My talk will take place on Saturday, July 28th at 11:30, at the Museum.  For those of you who don’t know, “Oshkosh” (as the event is generally known) is the largest aviation event in the world.  Where else in the world can you get a ride in one of *THREE* tri-motored aircraft?  Where else can you see flying aircraft that run the range from the F-22 Raptor to a Curtis Jenny?  Where else do they park 15,000 aircraft on the field?  During the aircraft arrival period, Wittman Field becomes the busiest airport in the world.  It’s all pretty amazing.  I have been there several times, and now I have the honor of speaking there!  I’m jazzed! ( www.airventure.org )

Hopefully I will see you at one (or both) of the events.  If you do attend, please come up and introduce yourself!

Past Entries – 2006

December: December 11th of 2006 – exactly 65 years after John Magee perished in 1941.  There was a memorial service at Digby, England – stay tuned, I hope to be getting some pictures as well as some video of the occasion.

November: I have released a new version of the High Flight Compilation DVD, and am calling it Volume 1+2.  It combines Volume I and Volume II onto one DVD. 

Last summer I had a major change of direction on this project.  The more I learned about John Magee and his life, the more I came to feel that his story rated being made into a feature film instead of an A&E-style biography.  On August 1st, I started on a feature film screenplay, and as of today (November 15th), I have 167 pages done!  I do need to trim it down a bit, as the maximum length should be around 120-130 pages.  I am really very happy with the story, and I think that it will make a grand movie!  I already have interest from an agent at a major Hollywood agency… so stay tuned!

Since deciding to make “High Flight – The Movie” instead of the straight biography, I have gotten tremendous feedback from many people.  Some are already casting the film, with Leonardo DiCaprio leading the votes for playing John Magee.  My response is that it is WAY too early to start casting the movie … but it is kinda fun … DiCaprio is too old, since I am portraying John from aged 16 to 19.  One person I thought might be good is Skandar Keynes, the actor who played Edmund Pevensie in “The Chronicles of Narnia.”  Please stay tuned – I will try and keep this website updated as to the progress!

April: Time flies, as usual.  I am polishing the script to the High Flight movie, and will be hopefully attracting some attention to it within the next few months.

I will be speaking at the May meeting of the Beaverton Chapter of the Oregon Pilots Association, on Friday, May 5th, 7:30 p.m., at the Twin Oaks Airport near Beaverton.

I have added a new section about interesting facts concerning JGM, to which I will be adding things once in awhile.

Past Entries – 2005

January: Well, 2004 just zipped by.  There were quite a few ups and downs in my personal and professional lives.  Lots of opportunities for growth!  The JGM/High Flight biography/documentary project had to go on the back burner for awhile, but I am still intent on completing it!

For those of you waiting for the T-38 version of the USAF High Flight Television Sign-Off, your wait is nearly over.  I will hopefully have it in hand within by April.

I have acquired a video of William Conrad reciting the poem.  I understand that this film was shown in some areas as a sign-off film.

I have gotten a PAL version of the movie, “High Flight” starring Ray Milland.  Need to get it converted to NTSC before I can watch it — don’t know if it has any references at all to the poem.

April: Amazing, but true: the long wait is over!  I have obtained the T-38 version of the USAF High Flight Television Sign-Off and am in the process of adding it to the HF Compilation DVD Volume II.  In addition to the T-38 piece, Volume II will contain the William Conrad version of the Sign-Off film and John Denver singing his “Flight (The Higher We Fly)” song on the Bob Hope Show.

Stay tuned… I will be sending out a mailing to all those who have ordered the HF Compilation DVD as well as those who have requested to be notified when the T-38 version was available.