20 June, 1955
This is my very last piece of gold-lief (leaf, I mean) stationery—as a matter of fact, it’s my very last piece of stationery, period. I don’t know why I’ve hung on to this one sheet for so long. Do you know I have two T-shirts & two skivvies I have never worn? I folded them exactly according to the book when I was in Indoctrination, & haven’t touched them since—always put them in the front of my drawer in case of inspection.
I’m afraid my letters are not quite the literary gems I envision them, but my pen has a habit of being about three words ahead of my mind. My roommate is talking to the guy across the hall about getting married—the navy is giving commissions to all the guys who have college degrees, which means they can get married. It also means they’ll be getting about $150 more than we plebeians do. Two of my three roommates are getting their commissions. Oh, well.
My old doubts about remaining in the program are back again—I simply cannot seem to be able to fly formation. Imagine trying to fly ten feet away from someone, trying to keep the same speed, not getting too close or too far (especially too close). Plus the fact that both planes are bobbing around in an air mass. The sensations you get are both fascinating & a little terrifying.
When you are "wing man", or following a leader, you can concentrate on nothing but him—to look away for even one second could either drift you into him, or far behind. It becomes almost hypnotic—nothing moves—only him. He is the sky & the ground & the sun. I used to amuse myself watching a choir, & concentrating so that I could only see their mouths moving in the common nothing of their faces. Or, at a lecture, to stare at the speaker & watch the entire world become hazy until all I could see was his face, sharp against the blur. Well, that’s about what flying formation is. The perfect position, so they tell us, is one where you in the front cockpit have the leader’s tail wheel balanced on the tip of his far wing. It is an illusion, of course, but it becomes an obsession—you are completely motionless—the wheel moves slightly from the wing tip, & you make the necessary throttle corrections to put it back. When the leader turns, you are scarcely aware he is turning—he just moves into a new position, which you match and keep. Fascinating, and so simple—it sounds! But doing it is a different matter.
I was thinking he other night, after a particularly "hairy" hop, and after hearing of a mid-air formation crash in which one guy was killed, about dying. No, not morbid or anything—just thinking. The possibility or even the realization of such a fact is still remote as ever. But I devised what I think is a foolproof plan. When I die, eventually (say in five or six hundred years) I shall have it all arranged. I am going to have built a special compartment, rather like a large deep-freeze, but far colder—so cold that anything placed in it would freeze solid instantly. Now, the instant I die, I am to be placed in this container—rather like a large fruit jar. Then I am to be flown to the north pole, or south pole, or as close as is possible to get, and left there, will all my papers and specified things.
When, should civilization ever be allowed to advance so far, man has acquired the ability to rid himself of death (which is really nothing but a disease) and can restore life, they can come & get me—I shall be complete physically, & should be worth reconstruction if only for historical purposes.
Sounds silly, doesn’t it? I suppose it is, but I honestly intend to do it if I have the chance. I will not be buried like a dead dog in a field of green grass, which may be very pretty & all that, but robs one of all individuality—he might as well never have lived at all. I’ve discovered recently that the ancient Greeks, whom I already admire, had the same philosophy as I—a man is only dead when he is forgotten.
Now, should the remote possibility arise whereupon I find it necessary to shuffle off this mortal coil without the aid of my little ice box, I would like very much to have the following done (no, this isn’t a last will & testament; it’s just a calm expression of my wishes)—all my things—everything that has anything to do with me (pictures, stories, letters, etc.) put in a steel box, which should be made as much a vacuum as possible—the box enclosed in lead, & the whole placed in thick cement & buried & marked, with a notation that it not be opened for at least five hundred years. Of course, people being very inquisitive, they might not wait that long, so make it 1,000 years. In all seriousness, I really would like it done.
See? You think I’m in a mood or something—why people refuse to even think of certain things is beyond me. Just closing your eyes or ears to something doesn’t mean it’s gone away. Granted, I dislike thinking about it as much as the next fellow—maybe even more, but I did want to let you know what to do just in case. (Also granted that flying has its moments when it scares me stiff.)
Enclosed find the title, money order, & everything that goes with it—I give up—I can never get to town when a notary is open. You send it in & have it sent down here.
Seeing as I’m almost out of paper & have no more, I had better close now, though I should go on in a more cheerful note than most of this has been. Until I see you both, I am