In Naval Aviation we have all lost squadronmates, students, friends, to the dangers of our beloved profession. Yesterday I added another to my own list, which slowly grows as we gain experience and seniority. This loss is a little different though. I never shook CAPT LeFon’s hand. I only knew him through his writing. I think there are probably many of us out here though that are in the same boat. His writing was what Papa Hemingway called “true writing,” which is the best kind of writing and what Papa said he always struggled to produce. Because of that, many of us felt that we knew him even though we had never met.
There are very few folks that mix our chosen profession as Naval Aviators with a love of meaningful words on the page. Seeing that not only an aviator, but a Fighter/Attack Guy, could mix thinking and writing with being a combat pilot and a respected leader gave inspiration to a Rotorhead like me. It is easier to leave the yellow brick road and take the path less traveled when you see that at least there are footprints in the mud.
Lex is one link in a small but strong chain of men who strapped themselves into an airframe, but were also known for picking up a pen. In early 1941, as Britain fought Germany alone, a young man named John Gillespie Magee rolled into his first combat squadron, the 412th Fighter Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Born in Shanghai, China to an American father and a British mother, Magee turned down a scholarship to Yale in 1940 in order to enlist in the RCAF and headed to Ontario for flight training. While in Britain in his operational training squadron (what we Naval Aviators would call the Fleet Replenishment Squadron) he wrote a sonnet which has become famous among Aviators everywhere. Only a few months after writing it, after being in his squadron for less than a month and at the age of 19, he died in a midair collision between his Spitfire and an Airspeed Oxford training aircraft out of RAF Cranwell.
This is for Neptunus Lex, not the first of those wearing Wings of Gold to leave us and not the last. Your brothers and sisters will always remember your leadership, your inspiration, your writing, and your flying…
by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
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.
Up, up, the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, nor even eagle flew.
And while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space…
…put out my hand, and touched the face of God.