There were only about 6,000 American glider pilots in World War II – all of them volunteers. Their silver wings sported the letter “G” for glider, but the men insisted that it stood for “guts.” No one ever debated the point.
These brave men were part of battles in Burma, the Philippines, Sicily, Normandy, and Holland. And in an often-overlooked exercise as part of the Battle of the Bulge, they quietly and effectively airlifted supplies to the besieged soldiers holding on for dear life at a place called Bastogne in Belgium.
When Goldie talked about his days as a glider pilot, however, he would speak of Operation Varsity, part of a larger initiative designed to effectuate a massive Allied crossing of the Rhine into Germany. In March 1945, hundreds of transport aircraft and other planes with gliders in tow left bases in England and France. They rendezvoused with others over Belgium then turned northeast toward the target areas. This airdrop armada (the largest of the war) included 1,350 gliders – one of them piloted by 22-year old Goldman.
Following the war, and no doubt deeply influenced by his experiences, Goldie committed his life to the Christian ministry, serving for 50 years as the pastor of a church in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His work was characterized by passion, sacrifice, and a tireless effort to tell his favorite stories.
Goldie loved to take young ministers under his glider pilot wing, myself included. He was a great encouragement and help to me in my early pastoral days as I tried to find my voice leading my first congregation in West Texas. Sometimes he’d even help my young family financially.
I last saw him a few years ago in Lynchburg, Virginia, as we stood together in a very long line of those gathered to pay respects to Jerry Falwell, who had just died. Goldie was in rare form that day. “David,” he said, “Here’s what you need to be doing.” And he was off on this or that subject. Nonstop. The guy could talk. Soon, a few in the line around us began to appear a bit annoyed at the old guy sounding forth. But not me—I knew his heart—and his story.
Interestingly, though – whereas he really liked to tell his war stories – the one he would always default to was the one about Jesus. He might open a conversation with his glider exploits, but he always found his way to the Christian gospel. In fact, he was doing that until his voice could speak no more and he lapsed into unconsciousness in that Texas hospital room.
And though the glider pilot turned preacher was unable to communicate any longer with those at his bedside, he was keenly aware when the moment came for him to leave and experience the rest of Pilot Officer Magee’s famous poem:
“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 untresspassed sanctity of space, Put out my hand and touched the face of God.”