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Yeager: Gone West

Chuck Yeager, the first pilot to break the sound barrier in 1947, poses in front of the rocket-powered Bell X-IE plane that he flew at Edwards Air Force Base.

I haven’t yet done everything, but by the time I’m finished, I won’t have missed much. If I auger in (crash) tomorrow, it won’t be with a frown on my face. I’ve had a ball.”

Yeager died Monday, his wife, Victoria Yeager, said on his Twitter account. “It is w/ profound sorrow, I must tell you that my life love General Chuck Yeager passed just before 9pm ET. An incredible life well lived, America’s greatest Pilot, & a legacy of strength, adventure, & patriotism will be remembered forever.”

My Sad Captains

One by one they appear in
the darkness: a few friends, and
a few with historical
names. How late they start to shine!
but before they fade they stand
perfectly embodied, all

the past lapping them like a
cloak of chaos. They were men
who, I thought, lived only to
renew the wasteful force they
spent with each hot convulsion.
They remind me, distant now.

True, they are not at rest yet,
but now that they are indeed
apart, winnowed from failures,
they withdraw to an orbit
and turn with disinterested
hard energy, like the stars.

— Thom Gunn

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Rob Muir December 8, 2020, 8:25 AM

    Beautiful poem, Gerard. The moment I first heard about the passing of the General, I immediately thought of High Flight. The General has indeed slipped the surly bonds of earth. RIP pard.
    I felt the same when Scott Crosley passed. It seemed the giants of my youth would last forever. Some days I feel that losing their presence here is more than I can bear, but that is just the decades-long process of me losing my youthful perspectives and exuberance.

  • gwbnyc December 8, 2020, 8:54 AM

    Since recovering, and to aid such, from the wuhan virus in april I haven taken long walks downtown and back each evening, late. There are no people yet at those hours; less, when the lockdown was in place. Each night standing, say, on an utterly empty Hudson Street at Duane, turning slowly, observing, listening, to no one or no thing, the phrase “footless halls of air” presents itself to me often.

    I adore solitude, I worship silence.

    In a city stolen.

  • EX-Californian Pete December 8, 2020, 10:11 AM

    What a truly great and brave man.
    He has now flown higher than ever before, and belongs to the heavens.

    R.I.P. Chuck.

  • Stargazer December 8, 2020, 11:17 AM

    Great pilot. Very personable guy. I had the privilege of talking with him briefly at a reception in DC we were both attending. Will never forget it.

  • james wilson December 8, 2020, 12:54 PM

    It’s remarkable how perfectly the face reflected the man.

  • Gordon Scott December 8, 2020, 2:26 PM

    The anecdotes about him are endless. He was leading his squadron across the Mediterranean Sea. He got on the radio and mentioned a burning oil tanker ahead. The rest of his group finally saw it about four minutes later. Eyes like an eagle.

    After being shot down over France, he made his way to Spain with the help of the Resistance. Flyers who did that were transferred out of theater, because they had knowledge of Resistance agents. Yeager was not transferred. Too damn good a pilot; he got a special exemption. He showed back up at his airfield with a bunch of bananas on his shoulder. By “bunch” I mean one of those four-foot stalks. Fresh fruit was unheard of in England during the war.

  • sharksauce December 8, 2020, 3:19 PM

    Yeager was legitimately the best of us.

  • Dan December 8, 2020, 5:31 PM

    Worked with Gen Yeager on the F-20 Tigershark program decades ago.

    Funny how one clings to memories of meeting, or even being near, great men. There are so few.

    It’s why I, my wife and four friends spent an entire day traveling and standing shoulder-to-shoulder for six hours in a confined area in Bullhead City, Arizona with 23,591 other citizens from four states for an opportunity to glimpse President Trump land in Air Force One and speak to us for a few minutes.

    Greatness is long remembered and not easily forgotten.

  • Terry December 8, 2020, 5:42 PM

    I read Chuck Yeager’s autobiography about a year ago. He was in heaven in high performance aircraft. A natural born fighter pilot. The P-51 was an extension of Chuck’s being.

    My father and Chuck were friends from the Eight Air Force during WW-II in England.

    RIP General Yeager. You deserve a rest.

  • Nori December 8, 2020, 6:00 PM

    Gen. Yeager embodied that great American spirit,the sense of adventure and good humor,no matter what. Remarkable man.
    Rest In Peace,Sir.

  • Auntie Analogue December 8, 2020, 7:48 PM

    Betcha Chuck Yeager’s now teaching angels a few flight test routines.

  • Anne December 8, 2020, 10:09 PM

    And, to think that all of that was the outcome of only a high school education! He was a great example of how the military can educate as well as train young people who want to learn.

  • Anonymous December 8, 2020, 10:54 PM

    Just a note. The poem High Flight was written by an AMERICAN who enlisted across the border in Canada with the RCAF because we had not yet joined the war against Germany.

  • H (science denier) December 9, 2020, 4:41 AM
  • David December 10, 2020, 5:15 PM

    Requiem

    By Robert Louis Stevenson

    Under a wide and starry sky
    Dig the grave and let me lie
    Gladly did I live, and gladly die
    And I laid me down with a will

    This be the verse you grave for me
    Here he lies where he longed to be
    Home is the sailor, home from the sea
    And the hunter home from the hill

    ,,,and he has slipped the surly bonds of Earth.