Prologue - The Sky Is My Home

March 2, 1943

This morning, as I climb into the Spitfire at the Hamble Airfield in Hampshire, England, I’m not happy with the weather report. But things change quickly and I hope it will improve during the flight.

The pre-flight mechanic, who has just waved me off with a cheery “Ta-Ra!” left me the smell of oil and a whiff of disinfectant to remember him by.

Today’s assignment is to ferry another Spitfire to a bomber squadron—a task I regularly perform. As always, I meticulously inspect the plane before climbing in. I give my “In God We Trust” silver dollar a rub, put it back in my pocket, and whisper a fast prayer.  

I manually prime with the Ki-gas pump, and the supercharged Spit is soon climbing to its minimal altitude, lower than the 20,000 feet it would be cruising if it were intercepting a bomber formation later that day.

My much more leisurely ferry flight gives me time to plan what I’ll be writing to Mother this evening.

She and I have been in more frequent contact over the past month and she seems to understand the intense joy I feel when soaring so high above the earth.

Here’s the letter I plan to write her today.

Dearest Mother, If only you knew how happy I am when I fly. I have never felt so completely close to God as when I’m up in the blue. So if you ever get a message that I’ve been in a crackup and have been killed, don’t grieve for me more than you can possibly help; just know I died the way I wanted to.

Flying is, for me, an incurable disease. I need to stay positive now to reassure my family that I’m doing exactly what I want. The words to one of my favorite hymns—“When We All Get to Heaven”—pop into my mind, and I sing out loud and off-key to the Heavens above.    

About halfway to my destination, the weather becomes frightful and starts to close in around me. A strange mist makes me feel displaced in time and space, as if I’m flying through some primordial world. I shake my head and try to relax.

And then, the plane cuts out on me. It simply refuses to run any longer! I try re-starting the engine…but nothing. I try again.

My magical bird begins to plummet.  The training for surviving crashes races through my mind while I struggle to keep calm.  Realizing I don’t have enough altitude to jump, I know I have to stay with the plane.

Skimming over almost obscured ground too fast to map-read, I keep my eyes on the murky white ground.  I am so sure that I’m flying in the right direction that I continue my path forward.    

I don’t have time to be frightened.  Reminding myself that I love a challenge, I nervously jam two sticks of Wrigley’s Double Mint chewing gum in my mouth.  I have to concentrate on my landing strategy.

“Dear God, you are my co-pilot,” I whisper.  “Please keep my mind clear.”  I’m still guiding my stricken aircraft, gliding through the murk, waiting to break cloud cover.  I promise myself to land without tearing up the plane.  I have to maintain a safe airspeed while I find a good landing spot.

How I wish I could talk to someone!  But to avoid the Germans, all of us fly without radio contact.

When I fly into a fog bank, I can’t see above, below or ahead.  “God, I give this to you,” I pray out loud, willing myself to stay calm.  For a brief moment, I think I feel something soft caressing my cheek.

I look down and realize the fog bank doesn’t reach ground level.  I feel an odd kinship with the colors of the earth below.  They seem intensified, and I can make out a farmer moving slowly back and forth across his field.

Suddenly, a large thatched roof fills the cockpit glass.  I try turning to avoid it, but it is already too close!  I lower my head and double over, grabbing my seat.  Just then I hear and feel an enormous BOOM!   Everything goes black. 


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