Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Life Quite Extraordinary

It's an age thing I guess, but I find myself increasingly interested in biographies. So I'm really enjoying a new blog: Dictionary of Irish Biographies, written by Bill Grantham and featuring daily vignettes about famous and not-so-famous Irish people. Delightful and incredibly informative stuff.

My interest is not just confined to Irish biographies. I came across the extraordinary life story of Chuck Yeager (pictured) on the superb Art of Manliness blog. I knew about Yeager from the movie The Right Stuff (featuring a perfect performance by Sam Shepard as Yeager). I just hadn't realised how extraordinary a man he truly was. I knew he was the first man to break the sound barrier, but I didn't know (or had forgotten) he had two broken ribs from a horse riding accident two days before - he didn't tell the doctor for fear they wouldn't let him fly! Though it was his war time exploits, including a daring escape through the Pyrenees after being shot down over France that was a revelation to me.

He once described his outlook on life thus:
You do what you can for as long as you can, and when you finally can’t, you do the next best thing. You back up but you don’t give up…I know too many people who have erected barriers, real brick walls, just because they have gray hair, and prematurely cut off themselves from lifelong enjoyments by thinking, ‘I’m too old to do this or that-that’s for younger people.’ Living to a ripe old age is not an end in itself; the trick is to enjoy the years remaining. And unlike flying, learning how to take pleasure from living can’t be taught. Unfortunately, many people do not consider fun an important item on their daily agenda. For me, that was always high priority in whatever I was doing…
General Chuck Yeager is still going strong at 86 years of age. His extraordinary life teaches us that all men face their own 'sound barrier' and by going through it we transform fear and risk into joy and success. If I get to 86 having lived a tenth the life that man has lived I will count myself truly blessed.


  1. Gerard,

    I actually met him once as I recall at a show on Edwards Air Force Bases in the US.

    A friend of mine who worked there said that even after he retired he could "stroll onto the base, and take a jet for a spin".

    John Delaney

  2. Yeager was clearly a great flyer. In some respects he was the last of a generation of test pilots. Those who came after him tended to be "college boys", with a strong engineering background, some of whom went on to NASA. Neil Armstrong being the obvious example. I have the sense that Yeager wasn't entirely a fan of such pilots.

  3. Thanks for the plug for my blog. I'll start following yours: I liked your Yeager piece very much. Bill Grantham


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