Chronicles of Oklahoma

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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 13, No. 4
December, 1935

before the
of Oklahoma,
Chairman, Telephone Division,
Federal Communications Commission.

Page 376

Out of the skies last August flashed from Alaska the tragic news of the death of Will Rogers and Wiley Post. Tonight Oklahomans join in honoring these dauntless pioneers. It is my privilege to pay an humble tribute to Wiley Post, outstanding pioneer aviator.

Amid beautiful surroundings in Ponca City, Oklahoma is a park given to the State by its present Chief Executive. In it rises a striking monument. It is a statue of the "Pioneer Woman," one of the characteristic figures in American history. There she stands, erect, head high, Bible and bundle in hand, leading her little son, ready to set forth with sublime courage in quest of new lands and a new home in God's free and open country.

Of such stock is the pioneer, and of such spirit was the sturdy Oklahoma farm boy whose renown as conqueror of the skies we are proud to acclaim. It was that same pioneering spirit, deeply ingrained in the very soul and being of Wiley Post, which spurred the founders of our State ever onward to the exploration and settlement of new territory and to countless unselfish deeds of daring and adventure.

To duplicate the performance of others was never sufficient for this hero of the air. Nor did misfortune daunt him in the determined pursuit of his purposes. Partially blinded by an explosion in the oil fields, with the sight of one eye irretrievably lost, it is a matter of common knowledge how this farmer boy of

Page 377

the Southwest turned even that major disaster to account and with the minor sum awarded him as compensation for that accident purchased a secondhand airplane and proceeded to demonstrate the indomitable nature within him that was an utter stranger to defeat.

While stunt flying and parachute jumping were scarcely out of the cradle as hazardous spectacles, this daring young aeronautist was providing thrills for thousands with his skill in maneuvering his plane. It was nothing for him to drop, plummet-like, from the sky to a hundred safe parachute landings.

Having thoroughly exploited the possibilities of such spectacles, they held little further interest for him and he was off in search of new adventures. Speed, and yet more speed became his passion. The Chicago-Los Angeles Air Derby of 1930 provided an avenue for the exercise of his skill in coaxing the utmost out of a flying machine. In winning that classic against all comers, winging his way 1760 miles in nine hours, nine minutes, and four seconds, at the age of thirty he created for himself a distinct place among the captains of the aeronautic world.

And still his insatiable flair for the untried, handed down to him as a legacy from his pioneering ancestry, drove him on to deeds of greater fame. What more venturesome than to circle the globe by chart and compass, through clouds and storms, beneath burning sun and star-lit heavens, trail-blazing in the air! This did Wiley Post presently, with Harold Gattey as navigator, the "Winnie Mae" roaring down out of the blue to rest in a New York landing field in a few hours more than eight days after taking off on her flight from Harbor Grace, Newfoundland.

But ambition continued to ride the wings of his soaring plane. Even as Lindbergh had thrilled the world by his non-stop transoceanic flight, so did this pioneering Oklahoman, impelled by an urge that would brook no denial, set out upon his greatest exploit of all, no less a feat than flying alone around the world. Aeronautics have written the story of that achievement in never-fading letters upon the page of our Nation's history. The record of seven days, 18 minutes, and 49 seconds which Post hung up in that epochal flght still stands as a challenge to airmen in the years to come.

Page 378

What of Post's excursions but a few months since in the region of the stratosphere, that mysterious upper air area of Arctic temperature which begins some nine miles above the earth's surface and wherein no human being can live without artificial means? Were these excursions failures? Perhaps so, in the immediate sense that in none of his four attempts from California was he able to gain his goal of reaching New York in record time through this rarefied medium. But, when due account is taken of the worth of his observations noted during these flights, they were far from failures, for largely upon that data Army and aeronautic egineers are now engaged in designing the equipment destined ultimately to make stratosphere navigation possible. When, in future years, our airplanes go hurtling at unbelievable speeds through this belt of intense cold, unhampered by clouds and storms and aided rather than impeded by its mild and constant currents, then will this daring aviator-pioneer's contribution to our sum of knowledge prove its value. In this respect there was no anti-climax to his career. As has been well said: "Wiley Post would ask no greater monument, and he deserves no less a one, than successful flights in the stratosphere."

Even to the very end Post ran consistently true to form. Was it merely a grim coincidence, or was it the moving finger of fate that beckoned him on to the very verge of civilization for his final takeoff? What more fitting than that one of his spirit, ever reaching out beyond the confines of the accomplished into unadventured fields, should have met the inevitable at one of our farthest outposts. It was as though his restless soul, freed at length from restraint, took its flight from the uttermost boundary of the conventional into the vast unknown, just as he had often piloted his plane into uncharted aerial realms. And Wiley Post died as doubtless he would have died had he been free to choose the manner of his going. Indeed, as he once said to a friend, "Sure, I know it's dangerous. But if I get popped off, that's the way I want to go. Doing the things I want to do."

And so he went, this intrepid adventurer. Of him it might with equal truth be said as was uttered in a eulogy of that beloved philosopher-humorist who accompanied his pilot beyond the setting sun: "He loved to venture where new things could be learned and greater progress attained. If we could see beyond the azure sky

Page 379

into which he loved to fly, I expect we would know now that he is realizing his fondest dreams to know and do something untried and new."

"Who are these that fly as a cloud?" was the appropriate Scriptural text chosen by the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City in pronouncing the Post funeral oration. Posterity, and loyal Oklahomans everywhere who honor his memory may well reply: 'These are they whose flights bear them into the unknown and to untried heights, ever doing with all their God-given might, even as Wiley Post, the things they want to do, to advance the boundaries of knowledge and the well being of humanity'."

As we reflect upon his achievements, across the western sky in prophetic vision floats this legend of hope and faith, inspirational to the pioneer spirit throughout the years to come: "Fly on, Wiley Post, fly on!"


WHEREAS, on Thursday, the fifteenth day of August, nineteen hundred and thirty-five, through the act of an inscrutable Providence, two distinguished sons of Oklahoma, Will Rogers and Wiley Post, who had reflected imperishable credit upon their native Commonwealth, simultaneously met with an untimely fate, to the irreparable loss of their State and Nation, and

WHEREAS, these illustrious characters were known and beloved throughout the length and breadth of the land, and had endeared themselves to the hearts of all humanity by their character and achievements, and

WHEREAS, Will Rogers was the outstanding philosopher of this age—a man of sturdy character, keen perception, sparkling wit and wholesome and refreshing humor—an unspoiled child of nature, who looked down upon no man, and looked up to none—a true friend of all humanity, and

WHEREAS, Wiley Post had established himself as a leader in the new field of aerial navigation, and

Page 380

WHEREAS, the keen, benevolent, kindly and wholesome humor and philosophy of the one, and the noteworthy contributions to the cause of science and aviation of the other, have created for these distinguished citizens an undying fame, wherein their State shared as by a mirrored glory, and

WHEREAS, in this lamentable tragedy, Oklahoma has lost two of its foremost citizens, whose memory shall ever remain a living inspiration to all Americans, now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED, That the Oklahoma State Society of Washington, desires to inscribe upon the record an expression of the Society's profound sorrow at the tragic death of Will Rogers and Wiley Post, a sentiment to be preserved in the archives of the organization, as an enduring testimonial to their deeds, their fame, and their imperishable service to their State, their Nation, and humanity.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That a copy of these resolutions be transmitted to the bereaved families of the deceased in token of the affection and sympathy of the Oklahoma State Society of Washington, D. C., and that a copy thereof be preserved in the archives of the Society.

D. A. McDougal, Paul A. Walker, Frank P. Douglass,

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