‘touched the face of God’Published 8:57pm Saturday, October 30, 2010
In the years since the Selma and Dallas County Museum of History and Archives opened it has been the recipient of a treasure trove of artifacts and historic documents; more than 2,000 are catalogued at present. The generosity of Black Belt friends has been the foundation for the excellent facility present in the handsome old red depot; thankfully so since the museum is truly “not for profit.”
From time to time we receive a gift so noteworthy that it bears public mention, and let me hasten to add that material value plays no part in its value to the museum. Such was the gift presented to us by my friend and relative Johnny Russell. Discovered on a shelf of a closet in the law office of his son, Vaughan Russell, a tattered old scrapbook holds bits and pieces of the Soldiers Club, and later the USO, from the glory days of Craig Field.
Only a few pages are filled, these with Times-Journal clippings of social events organized by the community for the entertainment of military personnel. Reading through them clutches at the hearts of those of us whose “time” World War II was, in poignant reminder of what is probably the last time this nation truly united in a common cause.
There are photographs, also, glossy prints of dozens of young men in uniform, whose faces are unbelievably young. There are pictures of groups of young Selma women, high school and college girls mostly, all dressed in their Sunday best, as they entertain the young men at parties and dances.
The scrapbook contains clippings of a myriad of activities for the young soldiers and cadets, sponsored by churches, local clubs such as Pilot, Rotary, Kiwanis and Exchange and Selma garden clubs. The USO, after temporary quarters on Alabama Avenue and the Hotel Albert, found permanent quarters in the old YMCA building on Broad Street, which became the home away from home for hundreds of servicemen.
The tattered pages and yellowed clippings brought home memories of days that used to be and those who lived through them. As I have often written, World War II was the worst of times but in many respects, the best of times.
On the week of the visit to Craig Field and Selma by a reunion group of the Pilot Class of 65-E, we again pause to remember all those fine young men who flew the planes over our city and into our hearts and through skies of the world at war. It seems appropriate to use “High Flight,” the beautiful poem written by John Magee Jr., for those whose silver wings carried them afar and with thought for the many who did indeed “touch the face of God.”
“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’ve 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, along delirious burning blue,
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grade,
Where never lark or even eagle flew,
And while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sancity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.”