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Air Force Museum Foundation

Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee: "High Flight"


Note: This exhibit is located in the hallway between the Early Years and World War II Galleries.

"High Flight" was composed by Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee Jr., an American serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force. He was born in Shanghai, China, in 1922, the son of missionary parents, Rev. and Mrs. John Gillespie Magee; his father was an American and his mother was originally a British citizen.

He came to the United States in 1939 and earned a scholarship to Yale, but in September 1940 he enlisted in the RCAF and graduated as a pilot. He was sent to England for combat duty in July 1941.

In August or September 1941, Pilot Officer Magee composed "High Flight" and sent a copy to his parents. Several months later, on Dec. 11, 1941, his Spitfire collided with another plane over England, and Magee, only 19 years of age, crashed to his death.

His remains are buried in the churchyard cemetery at Scopwick, Lincolnshire.

"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.

- John Gillespie Magee Jr.

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