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Our hero dead

Posted by Richard on May 30, 2011

"Flags In" for Memorial Day, Arlington National Cemetary. Photo from Isaac Wankerl (
The grave of his father, Maj. Max W. Wankerl, is in the foreground.


Memorial Day

by Edgar A. Guest (1881-1959)

The finest tribute we can pay
Unto our hero dead to-day,
Is not a rose wreath, white and red,
In memory of the blood they shed;
It is to stand beside each mound,
Each couch of consecrated ground,
And pledge ourselves as warriors true
Unto the work they died to do.

Into God's valleys where they lie
At rest, beneath the open sky,
Triumphant now o'er every foe,
As living tributes let us go.
No wreath of rose or immortelles
Or spoken word or tolling bells
Will do to-day, unless we give
Our pledge that liberty shall live.

Our hearts must be the roses red
We place above our hero dead;
To-day beside their graves we must
Renew allegiance to their trust;
Must bare our heads and humbly say
We hold the Flag as dear as they,
And stand, as once they stood, to die
To keep the Stars and Stripes on high.

The finest tribute we can pay
Unto our hero dead to-day
Is not of speech or roses red,
But living, throbbing hearts instead,
That shall renew the pledge they sealed
With death upon the battlefield:
That freedom's flag shall bear no stain
And free men wear no tyrant's chain.


Today, please remember those who died "that liberty shall live." I'm remembering my dad, Col. Samuel R. Combs — who, in the memorable words of Robert Denerstein, "answered his country's call even before the phone rang." I miss you, Papa. 

If you have friends or relatives — or maybe an elderly neighbor down the street — who are veterans, thank them now. Don't wait until they have a marker over their head. 

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3 Responses to “Our hero dead”

  1. Rick Shultz said


    For once I would like to to follow your example if it’s OK with you.

    I would like to submit this as a tribute to my father, who, like most

    people, had a dream that was dear to his heart. He wanted to be a pilot

    in the worst way, but his physical limitations prevented him from getting

    a license. He passed away in August of 1997. And I miss him too.

    To Master Sargeant Arlie Edward Shultz

    USAF/Air Nat Guard/ Ret/ R.I.P.

    High Flight

    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, or 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.

    This poem is usually labeled “author unknown”

    when it is quoted in newspaper articles and such.

    But the man who wrote it had a name, and

    that name was: John Gillespie Magee Jr.

    During 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. Magee was just 18 years old when he entered flight training. Within the year, he was sent to England and posted to the 412th Fighter Squadron, RCAF. He was qualified on and flew the Supermarine Spitfire. 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.

  2. rgcombs said

    Very nice, Rick. Thank you.

    I can relate in a couple of ways. Like your dad, I very much wanted to fly. Made it to advanced Air Force ROTC. This was during Vietnam, and the vision rules were relaxed during that time, and I thought I’d qualify. But I failed the vision test by a whisker.

    When I was even younger, I built many model planes and ships. My absolute favorite plane was the Spitfire. I think it’s one of the best-looking fighters ever, and was certainly very capable in its day.

  3. Rick Shultz said


    Thank you for allowing that rather long comment and I assure you I will not abuse the favor. The Spitfire was indeed, and still IS, one of the most beautiful aircraft I have ever seen in both it’s

    graceful appearance and in its capabilities. When Hitler asked Goering what he could do to help the

    struggling Luftwaffe during the battle of Britain Goering replied irritably “Give me Spitfires” :=)

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