Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A True Renaissance Man

Fredric Arnold

Fredric Arnold is among many things an artist, author, pilot, inventor, poet and dedicated family man. (He happens also to be the father of one of my dearest college friends Dana.) I met Fred and his lovely wife Natalie during my years in Graduate school at UCLA when Dana and I were housemates.

Fred is a true Renaissance man with a wide range of interests and talents. His charm and his good looks from youth are as evident today as they were when I first met him. When you talk with Fred he fills the room with his presence, not in a big and boastful way but in a charismatic magnetic way. People are drawn to his conversations. He has so many interesting stories and he tells them with great humour, intelligence and a sense of compassion.

Because I am very aware of Fred's war experiences as a Pilot I thought of him this past Veteran's day when my friend Sandi posted the poem on her blog about flight. I sent it to Fred with a thank you for his service to our country. He then sent me a poem that he too had written about flight. I wanted to share that here and have asked his permission to do so. He kindly agreed and also sent some photos which I had asked for.
So "Thank You Fred " for allowing me to share these great photos of a Renaissance man that I am very proud to call my friend.

Fred on the left, his father in the middle, and his brother, Bob.
Fred shipped out two days later. His dad had advanced Parkinson disease. Fred supported his fathers back, while his dad held on to Bob for the photo.

Of this photo Fred writes: "Next to me is Sgt. Chad Jessup. He and his mechanics kept the engines and armament of my plane in perfect condition. I owe them my life.
I wore those coveralls during combat. Note their condition and how skinny I was. Not knowing why I survived during a time of heavy losses I thought maybe they were lucky coveralls, you know, like a rabbit's foot. During 50 missions they never got laundered; didn't want to lose their magic, so they got pretty raunchy, stained with oil, coolant, grease, and for a lot of other reasons also! Ha, ha."

Fred describes this photo, " I named my plane after my father. Although he was a pacifist, he believed in self-defense and our responsibility to defend ourselves if our country was under attack, unlike these immoral "wars" we are shamelessly engaged in. He never knew I was in combat until the day I returned."

In this last photo he says, "Here I am back in the States wearing a summer uniform. Notice how loose it was. I was down to 120 pounds."

*Note: Of his original group of 14 fighter pilots, only Fred and another survived. The story of how he memorialized his 12 lost comrades is detailed in a DVD documentary, "Between Two Worlds."

Here is the poem by John Gillespie McGee, 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 mirthOf 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 wind-swept heights with easy grace

Where never lark, or ever 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."

*Thank you to my friend Sandi at http://whistlestopcooking.blogspot.com/
for posting the lovely poem by J.G. Magee, as a tribute to her father and all other Veterans this past Veteran's Day. Reading it prompted me to share it with Fred. He then sent me the following:

"Thanks for your kind letter and the poem, High Flight, by John Gillespie MaGee, treasured by aviators the world over. It speaks so well to the emotions experienced by those who fly, capturing the awe of flight, and why his words touch the hearts of us all. I felt a kinship with that young man, born the same year (1922), both fighter pilots, he a poet, I an artist, and both having faced death. Sadly he was killed in a midair collision while I barely escaped.

No claim to being a poet, this is what I wrote after my first solo flight at night:

A blast of fury and off in the night,
Enveloped in darkness, suspended in flight
Out of a world governed by might
Into a world of exciting delight.

It may explain the kinship I felt for MaGee.

A bit of trivia, not generally known, the last line of his poem was borrowed, first written a few years earlier by, Cuthbert Hicks, another poet. I can understand how Magee, coming from a religious family, his father a minister, it may have seemed to be the perfect ending to his masterpiece. And for the world it was. But his words and mine weren't about the horror of war, where surely no God resides. It was about the beauty of flight.


Anonymous said...

This is wonderful in all aspects, the poetry, photos, memories, and the exchange of letters. Thank you,

menehune said...

This is such a lovely entry - the sentiment, the exchange, the photos and Mr. Arnold's words. A treasure of Americana. Mahalo for sharing!

Sandi @the WhistleStop Cafe said...

Beautiful Barb!
Indeed these are true Renaissance men. Thank you for this.

Trekcapri said...

Hello from Scotland Barb, thank you and thank you to Mr. Arnold for sharing his words and photos.

This is a wonderful post.

Kat said...

What a beautiful tribute to one of our heroes!


barb cabot said...

Kathy, So nice of you to drop by from Scotland. Hope you are having a wonderful time there.

Sandra said...

What a great story and wonderful pictures. I am so glad you shared this with us. I loved both of the poems. This reminds me, of my own father, who was a Captain in the Army during WWII, and told us, so many interesting stories.

barb cabot said...

Sandra I love the story of you seeking out the spot in Italy where your dad stood. That was such a wonderful story you told.

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