From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul

To Captain Candy and the Women Who Took to the Skies

It was one of the most poignant moments of my life. I was holding my baby in a tiny printing shop called The Sandpiper, on Balboa Island, when I overheard the two women owners murmuring to each other. They were helping a customer make photocopies of an article and were exclaiming over and over, “Look at her picture. She’s so beautiful!” I had to wander over to see what they were looking at.

The customer’s name was Marilyn, and the article she’d brought in was about one of the first female American pilots to fly missions during World War II. She was as glamorous as a movie star.

“I’m shocked,” I told Marilyn. “My father has always worked for the airlines, and even he never told me that women flew in the war. Is she still alive?”

“No. She was killed when her B-25 crashed in 1944. She was only 19.” Tears welled up in Marilyn’s eyes as she told us this.

I could understand her emotion. While my family has never lost anyone personally in a plane crash, it was my father’s job to talk with the families of commercial crash victims. All my life, we stayed glued to the television whenever there was a crash, praying that we didn’t know anyone on the flight.

Marilyn went on about the article. “This is the poem they read at the woman’s funeral in 1944. It’s called ‘Celestial Flight,’ and it became a bond for all female fliers. They always read this poem at memorials to women pilots.”

We were moved—and totally unprepared for what ­followed.

“They read this poem at my daughter’s funeral.”

We stared and waited in silence until Marilyn could continue. Her daughter was Captain Candalyn Kubeck—she called her Captain Candy—the pilot who flew the ValuJet that crashed in the Florida Everglades. She had begun flying when she was only 16, and no matter how many times Marilyn had asked her daughter to quit, Candy refused. She loved to fly, to soar in the skies, to feel the freedom of flight. At one point, Marilyn stopped objecting and started supporting her young daughter’s passion.

As I stared at her through my tears, my mind flooded with memories of the ValuJet episode, and I imagined what this poor mother had gone through. The news that the pilots and all passengers were dead. The dozens of hearings, the weeks of broadcasts about the crash. At one point her daughter was blamed, but a later investigation declared Captain Candy and the entire crew innocent of wrongdoing. Then my mind jumped back to Marilyn, left behind without her child—a mother who’d had the courage and bravery to let her daughter go into the skies to follow her dream. What could I say to her?

Holding my baby, I could only think to offer the same words that appeared in the news clipping that Marilyn held shakily in her hand:

Celestial Flight

She is not dead—but only flying higher,

Higher than she’s flown before,

And earthly limitations

Will hinder her no more.

There is no service ceiling,

Or any fuel range.

And there is no anoxia

Or need for engine change.

Thank God that now her flight can be

To heights her eyes had scanned,

Where she can race with comets,

And buzz the rainbow’s span.

For she is universal,

Like courage, love and hope,

And all free, sweet emotions

Of vast and godly scope.

And understand a pilot’s fate

Is not the thing she fears,

But rather sadness left behind,

Your heartbreak and your tears.

So all you loved ones, dry your eyes,

Yes, it is wrong that you should grieve,

For she would love your courage more,

And she would want you to believe,

She is not dead.

You should have known

That she is only flying higher,

Higher than she’s ever flown.

Good-bye to Captain Candy and to all those other women who took to the skies and are gone. And thanks to all you mothers who let them fly. They didn’t reach stardom, but they reached the stars.

Diana L. Chapman

Poem by Elizabeth MacKethan Magid

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