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John Gillespie Magee, Jr. (9 June 1922 - 11 December 1941) was an American aviator and poet who died as a result of a mid-air collision over Lincolnshire during World War II. He was serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force, which he joined before the United States officially entered the war. He is most famous for his poem "High Flight."
Magee joined the RCAF in October 1940 and received flight training in the province of Ontario at No. 9 Elementary Flying Training School located at RCAF Station St. Catharines, and at No. 2 Service Flying Training School at RCAF Station Uplands (Ottawa). He passed his Wings Test in June 1941.
Shortly after being awarded his wings and being promoted to the rank of Pilot Officer Magee was sent to Britain. He was posted to No. 53 Operational Training Unit in RAF Llandow, Wales to train on the Supermarine Spitfire. It was while serving with No. 53 OTU that Magee wrote his poem High Flight.
After graduating from No. 53 OTU, Magee was assigned to No. 412 (Fighter) Squadron, RCAF, which was formed at RAF Digby, England, on 30 June 1941. The motto of this squadron was and is Promptus ad vindictam (Latin: "Swift to avenge"). Magee was qualified on and flew the Spitfire.
Magee was killed at the age of 19. He had taken off with other members of 412 Squadron from RAF Wellingore. His Spitfire was involved in a mid-air collision with an Airspeed Oxford trainer from Cranwell, flown by Leading Aircraftman Ernest Aubrey Griffin. The two aircraft collided just below the cloud base at about 1,400 feet AGL, at 11:30, over the hamlet of Roxholme, which lies between RAF Cranwell and RAF Digby, in Lincolnshire. Magee was descending at high speed through a break in the clouds with three other aircraft.
At the inquiry afterwards a farmer testified that he saw the Spitfire pilot struggling to push back the canopy. The pilot stood up to jump from the plane but was too close to the ground for his parachute to open, and died on impact. Griffin was also killed.
Magee is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery, Scopwick in Lincolnshire, England. On his grave are inscribed the first and last lines from his poem High Flight:
"Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
Put out my hand and touched the Face of God."
December 21st, 2012
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