August 19th marks National Aviation Day, a national holiday commemorating the birth of Orville Wright. The day celebrates the genius and tenacity of Orville and his brother Wilbur – two bicycle mechanics from Dayton, Ohio – who against all odds launched the modern era of aviation and transformed the world.
My first real introduction to flying came from my favorite aviator, my husband, First Lieutenant James L. Hull. His life’s dream had always been to be a pilot, from the time he was a seven-year-old boy and his father was stationed in Japan in the United States Air Force.
“Flying is like being on cloud nine,” he exclaimed the day he earned his wings. His childhood dream had come true.
Almost always, when he’d finished a day of pilot training at Reese Air Force Base in Lubbock, Texas, he would walk through the backdoor of our duplex and proclaim, as if it were his first time flying, “You should have seen the clouds today. It was like cloud walking. Better than I ever imagined. I wish I could take you up with me.”
I remember those words as if they were uttered yesterday. Ever since Larry was killed during the Vietnam War on February 19, 1971, whenever I fly, I always try to reserve a window seat. It’s a special time for me. Once the plane finally rises enough to soar above the billowy clouds, I go to that special quiet place where I imagine Larry just outside my window, cloud walking. Through my mind’s eye, I can see myself out there, cloud walking alongside him and reminiscing about our time together.
Remembering and honoring Larry’s love of flying makes me grateful that he could earn his wings and fly.
Below is one of Larry’s favorite poems. It was included in his funeral program, when his remains were repatriated to the U.S. 35 years after his death.
by Pilot Officer Gillespie Magee, No. 412 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force Air Force (Killed December 1941)
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.
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew-
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.