Saturday, May 25, 2013

High Flight - a Memorial Day Tribute to My Father

My father, Walter Percy Joque, was an Air Force navigator/bombardier in WWII. He flew missions over North Africa and Italy, where he was shot down.  He spent the last year of the war in a German Prisoner of War camp.

Dad learned the High Flight poem and memorized it to recite at military and patriotic ceremonies in the small town of Escanaba, Michigan where I grew up.  In the years before he died—at age 95—when Alzheimer’s had robbed his memory of the war, his youth, and the names of my mother and my siblings and me, he still could recite this poem.  It became like a prayer to him, as he dramatized the final words, Put out my hand, and touched the face of God,”  reaching out with his own hand and topping off the poem with,“Amen.”

High Flight
By John Gillespie Magee

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.

The poem is the work of American poet and aviator John Gillespie Magee, who died in a mid-air collision  while serving in Britain during WWII.  He was flying for the Royal Canadian Air Force at the time.  He was only 19.

Various lines of the poem grace the headstones of many of the aviators and astronauts buried at Arlington National Cemetery. 

High Flight will forever be a memorial, in my mind, to my father, a member of “The Greatest Generation,” who didn’t hesitate to volunteer to serve his country in its time of need.

1 comment:

  1. Every year I send Huge Thanks out to the generation that made such a sacrifice for us. People like John Gillespie Magee who made the ultimate sacrifice and didn't see the generation that followed because of what they did.
    I can see you remember your father with pride Peggy and with good reason.
    xx Hugs xx

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