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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

In March of 1944, Nicholas Alkemade was the tail gunner in a British Lancaster bomber on a night mission to Berlin when his plane was attacked by German fighters. When the captain ordered the crew to bail out, Alkemade looked back into the plane and discovered that his parachute was in flames. He chose to jump without a parachute rather than to stay in the burning plane. He fell 18,000 feet, landing in trees, underbrush, and drifted snow. He twisted his knee and had some cuts, but was otherwise all right.

Suddenly all is quiet

All the noise has stopped and I am falling


And now I know the time of my death.

I have 100 seconds left

And I will be smashed into the soft black Dutch earth.

At 18,000 feet

That’s three and half miles to you

It will take me a full minute and a half

Falling falling.

The air rushing by my leather flying cap

Whistles and roars

But now I am at peace

In a world at war

Knowing that I am falling

Falling towards the earth.

I have chosen this course

I have chosen to die by jumping

My parachute a mass of flames

So I launched myself

Past the jagged metal

Fighting hard against

The groaning spars.

The trail of fuel flame

Lighting the night sky in a streamer of glory descending

How many times over the past months

Have I done the calculation

As have all the beery boys in the mess

In that time when we are walking back

In grim fraternity when the alcohol leaves only a bitter taste.

And now I am alone

With only the stars for company

As in some Suffolk lane trailing the others home

Turning and rolling I spread my arms

Like an angel

Like an eagle

Like the son of man upon the coss.

How long have I been falling


How long

In No more than thirty seconds

The ground wil rise to meet me

Like a soft dark lover coming out of the darkness

Of a hidden doorway to embrace me with

I have lived with death all around me

But never thought I’d experience

The time of dying so clearly,

So brightly,

Falling through the winter night sky.

For a moment I am buoyed by the air

But I know that I am accelerating

Second by second until I reach terminal velocity

Of around 125 miles an hour

And the ground embraces me.

In the mess we always said it would be better to jump

Than to go down in a burning coffin

The flames scorching and scouring with pain

Here there is no pain

Just apprehension at approaching oblivion

I am the only man

Apart from the one facing the firing squad

Or with a noose around his neck

Who knows the exact moment

When he will reach the great darkness and whatever lies beyond.

And lying in the snow, in the now

Wrenched with exquisite pain

But, by some miracle, living,



To face the sort of death

That other men look forward to

And never know the time of its coming.

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