John Gillespie Magee, Jr., Touching the Face of God

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Re-Posted from the Canada Free Press Re-posted from The By  —— Bio and ArchivesAugust 29, 2020

Touching the Face of God, John Gillespie Magee, Jr., High Flight

Shortly after the destruction of the space shuttle Challenger and the death of its crew, President Ronald Reagan recited the following poem to grieving Americans and friends around the world.

“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 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.

What inspired Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr. to write High Flight?

Many Americans remember these words but few know much about the author, John Gillespie Magee, Jr., an American Pilot Officer who served with the Royal Canadian Air Force.  Born to missionary parents in Shanghai, China in 1922, John’s father was American; his mother was British.

John arrived in the U.S. in 1939 and earned a scholarship to Yale, yet he soon dropped the pursuit of higher education for enlistment in the RCAF in September 1940.  He graduated as a pilot and was sent to England for combat duty in July 1941.

Historians are unclear of the exact date but in either August or September 1941, Pilot Officer Magee composed “High Flight” and sent a copy to his parents. Several months later, on December 11, 1941 his spitfire collided with another aircraft over England and Magee crashed to his death.  He was just then 19 years of age.  His remains are buried in the churchyard cemetery at Scopwick, Lincolnshire.

What inspired Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr. to write “High Flight?”  The answer is unknown, but conjecture is easy.  Who among us has ever gazed at the heavens and not wished to touch the face of God?


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