I lifted Magee's story from www.skygod.com:
During the dark days of the Battle of Britain, hundreds of Americans
crossed the border into Canada to enlist with the Royal Canadian Air
Force. Knowingly breaking the law, but with the tacit approval of
the then still officially neutral United States Government, they
volunteered to fight Hitler's Germany.
John Gillespie Magee, Jr., was one such American. Born in Shanghai,
China, in 1922, Magee was just 18 years old when he entered flight
training. Within the year, he was sent to England and posted to the
newly formed No 412 Fighter Squadron, RCAF, which was activated at
Digby, England, on 30 June 1941. He was qualified on and flew the
Flying fighter sweeps over France and air defence over England
against the German Luftwaffe, he rose to the rank of Pilot Officer.
At the time, German bombers were crossing the English Channel with
great regularity to attack Britain's cities and factories. Although
the dark days of the Battle of Britain were over, the Luftwaffe was
still on the job of keeping up the pressure on British industry and
On September 3, 1941, Magee flew a high altitude (30,000 feet) test
flight in a newer model of the Spitfire V. As he orbited and climbed
upward, he was struck with the inspiration of a poem — "To touch the
face of God."
Once back on the ground, he wrote a letter to his parents. In it he
commented, "I am enclosing a verse I wrote the other day. It started
at 30,000 feet, and was finished soon after I landed." On the back
of the letter, he jotted down his poem, "High Flight."
Just three months later, on December 11, 1941 (and only three days
after the US entered the war), Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee,
Jr., was killed. The Spitfire V he was flying, VZ-H, collided with
an Oxford Trainer from Cranwell Airfield while over Tangmere,
England. The two planes were flying in the clouds and neither saw
the other. He was just 19 years old.