Gliders were used as a vital component of American military operations for a relatively short period of time, most notably from 1943-1945 during epic and crucial battles in World War II. Those who flew and manned these fragile crafts were among the most courageous of all those who put themselves in harm’s way. Down through the years since the war, an ever-dwindling group of these unique silent warriors have met for reunions and remembrances. Usually in the course of these gatherings someone offers a very familiar toast, “To the Glider Pilots – conceived in error, suffering a long and painful period of gestation, and finally delivered at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Yet these men of honor made it work, scrambling to fulfill their vital missions in advance of an onslaught to come.
When it was over, and in an effort to extricate their crafts to soar another day - as well as to evacuate many wounded fighters, a maneuver known simply as “the snatch” was carried out and hazardously so. Instead of having a real runway and tow plane to get the glider airborne the usual way, the craft in the field would be flown over by a C-47 and using a hook and pole arrangement the fast passing craft would snag a towline on the grounded plane and jerk it into the air in a matter of seconds. There was no margin for error.
The other day, in the ICU of Houston’s Kindred Hospital, another snatch of sorts took place as a hero of a time long past, one who served our nation as a glider pilot during those brief and storied days, was “snatched” from his bed of affliction in a twinkling of an eye. He then soared at breakneck speed to the heavens, never to collide with this world again. His name was Curtis Goldman – those of us who knew him and counted him as a friend called him, affectionately, “Goldie.” He was 86 years old.
Goldie served as a glider pilot in the European Theater of Operations from 1944-1945 with the 99th Squadron, 441st Troup Carrier Group. He really wanted to pilot airplanes with actual motors, thinking that to be the prudent way to fly, but after he failed an eye exam someone suggested that he might try gliders – the first time he’d ever heard that word.
This was shortly after the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor and the death of the pilot-poet James Gillespie Magee a few days later. Goldie never knew Magee, but he certainly understood his famous poem, which began:
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.