Poem of the Month, November 2022

The poem of the month for November 2022 is “My General,” by Captain Robert (Bob) Hartzell. Hartzell was a transport pilot in the 14th Air Force in China during World War II. He flew personnel and supplies for General Clare Chennault, head of the Flying Tigers before it become the 14th Air Force. One of Hartzell’s most important missions was to pick up Jimmy Doolittle and some of his raiders after they bailed out of their aircraft after bombing Japan. Hartzell was awarded the Silver Star for flying a disabled cargo plane over mountainous territory with wounded Chinese officers on board. After returning to the United States, he was assigned to Patterson Field, near Dayton, Ohio. He wrote a number of poems that were broadcast over radio networks nationwide. These poems were collectively titled “A Pilot’s Poems.”

My General 

My general knows most everything;
He tells us how to fly our planes 
And dive to dodge a Zero’s sting, 
Or thrash back home through monsoon rains.  
He charts the targets we can blast 
And tells us how to bomb a ship, 
“Get in there low and get out fast!” 
His jaws must have a bulldog’s grip 
Because he looks so stern and wise.  
Men must know they’ve met a man apart 
When they have seen my general’s eyes; 
A fighter with a fighting heart.  
It is a boast we pilots use 
To say we serve so great a man.  
There is no one in all our crews
Who’d trade this post in lost Yunnan.  
My general glares from basalt brow 
As he directs this morning’s flight . . . 
But Oh, My General, tell me now 
Who will greet you here tonight?  

Note: “My general” is General Clare Chennault.     

Poem of the Month, October 2022

The following poem was reprinted frequently during World War II.  It is usually given the title, “The Airman’s Hymn.”  It was widely reprinted in American newspapers when it first appeared, but no author was identified.  According to one newspaper account, the poem was written by William Scott, a private in the Army Air Corps stationed at March Army Air Field at Riverside, California.  Scott evidently sent a copy of the poem to his sister, Babe Scott, who gave it to a local city editor to publish.  At the time, Miss Scott did not know that her brother had just been killed in an aircraft accident.  He was a passenger in an army aircraft, piloted by Lieutenant Richard F. Lorenz, which crashed in thick fog into the side of the Lick Observatory on Mount Palomar.  The crash occurred on 21 May 1939.  A copy of the poem was found in Scott’s pocket.  It was titled “A Pilot’s Lament.”  This poem has been modified by others as it has been reprinted. 

A Pilot’s Lament  

by William Scott   

When the last, long flight is over 
And the happy landing’s past, 
And my altimeter tells me 
The crackup’s come at last-- 

I’ll point her nose to the ceiling 
And I’ll give my crate the gun; 
I’ll open her up and let her zoom 
For the airport of the sun.  

There I’ll meet my fellow pilots
Now no longer flying low, 
As I stow my crate in the hangar 
On the field where flyers go.  

There we will fly forever with 
The Almighty flying boss, 
And ride all Heaven’s airways 
From Orion to the Cross.  

Note: Orion: the constellation Orion, which rides high in the summer nighttime skies in the northern hemisphere.  The Cross: the Southern Cross, a constellation visible only in the night skies of the southern hemisphere. 

Poem of the Month, September 2022

For the poem of the month for September, 2022, I am posting one of my poems. The subject of the poem is too familiar to need explanation or footnotes.

The Helicopters of Uvalde 

Before the incident, we would see the helicopters, 
one or two a day, outbound in the morning, inbound 
at sunset, following Highway 90, an easy navigational aid, 
across the flat south Texas plains.  We saw their whirling blades, 
their shining sides, and imagined the crew members chatting, 
telling jokes as they counted down the miles to and from Uvalde.  

But when we heard the news that afternoon, suddenly 
the sky was alive with helicopters, a steady hum of noise.  
We could see them heading west to the stricken city, 
nineteen children down, two teachers, killed by
an angry teen with an automatic rifle. 

First the hospital helicopters, landing hurriedly to carry bodies 
back to San Antonio in a nearly futile effort to save the children.  
We stood in our yard as they flew over, vainly visualizing 
the life-saving efforts as young lives slipped away  
one thousand feet above us.  

Soon the press helicopters passed overhead, carrying reporters 
and camera operators who gave us the grim and unimaginable details 
on the evening news, holding their microphones in front 
of the wounded school, telling us of continuous developments 
but nothing good: memorials, burials, recriminations.  

Then came the helicopters bearing the presidential seal, 
with airborne military escort, arriving in the morning and 
departing after the president and his wife had stood 
in the town square by the modest fountain nearly overwhelmed 
by the crosses, flowers, and grief of those lamenting 
what that one gun had done.

We saw them as they returned, Marine One leading 
with the backup bird immediately above and to the rear, 
on a straight course to Air Force One at Kelly Field.  
We imagined those aboard sitting in noisy silence 
flying away from the inexpressible sadness 
of the town’s disconsolate inhabitants.  

Now we see the usual helicopters, one or two a day, on their 
regular schedule, over in the morning, back in the afternoon, 
as if nothing had changed.  

Poem of the Month, August 2022

The poem of the month for August, 2022, is “Song of the Aviator,” by Ella Wheeler Wilcox.

“Song of the Aviator”

Ella Wheeler Wilcox

From the Detroit Free Press: “This poem, written by Mrs. Wilcox at the request of the late Lieutenant T. J. Kennedy, so far as is known has never been published.  It is here printed by courtesy of Mrs. Kennedy, mother of the Detroit aviator in whom Mrs. Wilcox took such deep interest—who received from the poet an autographed copy.”

Ella Wheeler Wilcox was a popular poet in the late 1880s; her two best-known collections of poetry were Poems of Passion and Poems of Pleasure.  She was in France in the summer of 1918 and met Kennedy when he was recovering from a flying accident. As far as is known, this is her only poem about aviation, written at Kennedy’s request in 1918.  She died in October of 1919, less than two weeks before this poem appeared in the Detroit Free Press on 9 November 1919.

Song of the Aviator

You may thrill with the speed of your thoroughbred steed, 
You may laugh with delight as you ride the ocean, 
You may rush afar in your touring car 
Leaping—sweeping by things that are creeping, 
But you will never know the joy of motion 
Till you rise up over the earth some day 
And soar like an eagle, away—away.  

High and higher above each spire, 
Till lost to sight is the tallest steeple; 
With the winds you chase in a valiant race, 
Looping—swooping, where mountains are grouping 
Hailing them comrades in place of people.  
Oh! vast is the rapture the bird man knows, 
As into the Ether he mounts and goes.  

He is over the sphere of human fear, 
He has come into touch with things supernal.  
At each man’s gate death stands a-wait 
And dying—flying were better than lying 
In sick beds crying for Life Eternal.  
Better to fly half way to God, 
Than to burrow too long like a worm in the sod.  

NOTE:  Lieutenant Thomas P. Kennedy was evidently killed while in pilot training at the U. S. Army Air Service flying school at Tours, France, in the summer of 1918. 

Poem of the Month, July 2022

The poem of the month this month is one of my poems. It describes one of my more interesting adventures when I was in pilot training in central Texas many years ago.


Dodging the Butte 

Early one morning, solo in my small training jet, 
practicing maneuvers in my assigned area west of Snyder, 
I decided to explore a cloud deck that was moving
slowly south, low above the surface of the flat west Texas plains.  
A thin layer, roads and fields visible beneath.  

I dipped a wing, pulled power back, 
dove through the thin edge of the gauzy cloud, 
banked left along a country road, 
followed it for a time, then pulled up  
through the cloud into the open skies above, 
a metal porpoise playing in a foam-filled sea.  

A second effort, farther west, through thicker cloud, 
the ground lost briefly from sight then visible again 
underneath the white layer, lots of room to spare 
as I rolled wings level, a hundred feet above its deserted surface, 
I might have been a rancher checking his fence line. 

Once again above the cloud, I sought a new section 
to explore.  Farther west, a cloud layer more thickly woven, 
one white bubble rising above the ground-covering blanket.  
I dipped the left wing in a shallow turn, banking to the west, 
easing into the whiteness, waiting for the ground to appear.  

A red light flashed past my right wing, cloud-shrouded, 
Attached to a tall tower, neon lights shining up from the ground, 
a blinking traffic light at a road intersection, not fifty feet 
beneath me, a gas station, restaurant, obscured in the cloudy 
morning darkness.  The road below vaguely visible 
through the dark gloom.  Ahead I see a dark object 
rising to a height above my flight level too high to pull over.
A solid rock butte standing up darkly in the grey cloud, 
Growing larger in my windscreen.  The road below 
angles to the right, past the object.  The road my guide, 
I follow it, the butte a black shadow now past my left wing 
as I pull up hoping for sky.  

Later, I checked my map.  
I had flown out of my training area, to a section where
the ground rose gradually.  My final dip through the solid cloud layer 
had taken me over a small Texas town, whose early rising residents 
had witnessed an early morning flyby 
from a young air force flyboy 
cruising past in exhilaration and fear 
westbound over Highway 180.