SOUTH CAROLINIANA LIBRARY
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Rev. John G. Magee , Letter, 23 September 1945, Washington, D.C., to Mrs. John O. Willson, Anderson, S.C.
Filed as an Addition to the Lander Family PapersLetter, 23 September 1945, added to the Library's holdings of Lander family papers, was penned by the Rev. John G. Magee, St. John's Church, Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C., and sent to Mrs. [John O.] Wil[l]son, Anderson. Magee reminisces about his introduction to Mrs. Willson's brother, the Rev. John McPherson Lander, and his wife in Brazil during the summer of 1908 just as he was "about to enter the theological school in preparation for going to China as a missionary." He then goes on to tell of the birth and early life of his son John, the fighter pilot whose poem "High Flight" became one of the most celebrated literary pieces of the Second World War and whose life was chronicled by biographer Hermann Hagedorn in the 1942 book Sunward I've Climbed, The Story of John Magee, Poet and Soldier, 1922-1941.
Born in Shanghai, young Magee studied in England at the Rugby School, where he won the poetry prize awarded to Rupert Brooke before the First World War. "It[']s interesting," the letter notes, "that he won this prize as he has been associated with Brooke in the minds of many people." Magee left England in the summer of 1939 to visit relatives in the United States but was not permitted to return by the State Department. Turning down a scholarship at Yale so that he could join the Royal Canadian Air Force, Magee "won his wings as a Fighter Pilot in June 1941 & went abroad in July. He had to undergo about six weeks further training to get used to a Spitfire & also to become used to high altitudes, before entering combat. It was during this period of training, on Sept. 3, 1941, while at an altitude of 30,000 feet, that he began the poem that has made him famous. He finished it soon after grounding the plane and then put the sonnet on the back page of his regular letter to us not knowing that he had done anything great." By the end of the war, the letter concludes, "High Flight" had been published in both German and Spanish language publications.
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