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The Last Full Measure of Devotion

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The Last Full Measure of Devotion

By

Jimmy Reed

Jimmy Reed (jimmycecilreedjr@gmail.com) is an Oxford, Mississippi resident, Ole Miss alumnus, Army veteran, former Mississippi Delta cotton farmer, and retired college teacher. His collection of short stories is available via southernstories.com.

Someone once defined military veterans as those who recognize that love of God, fellow man, and country is the willingness to write a blank check, payable for an amount up to the last full measure of devotion: life itself.

On August 16, 1960, Colonel Joe Kittinger proved his willingness to write such a check by ascending in a helium balloon to an altitude of 102,800 feet — almost twenty miles.

Wearing only a thin pressure suit, he placed his life in God’s hands, and stepped out of the gondola.

Kittinger recalls, “I prayed, Lord, take care of me, and jumped. At 90,000 feet, my body accelerated to 714 miles per hour, but I experienced no sense of speed because nothing visual appeared in the emptiness of space — nothing to zoom past.”

Kittinger had no communication with the ground, the temperature was 100 degrees below zero, and air was nonexistent. He overcame his fear of this unfamiliar, hostile environment by reminding himself constantly that he was serving his fellow man and his country, and that God was in charge.

“All went well until I reached 40,000 feet,” said Kittinger. “Then the glove on my right hand did not inflate, but I was determined to complete the mission, despite the possibility of losing the hand. Fortunately, it suffered no permanent damage.

“For one horrifying moment, I realized that my life and the mission’s success depended solely on the parachute. Thank God, it opened, and I landed 13 minutes later.”


After free falling for almost five minutes, Kittinger’s parachute opened at 14,000 feet, and he descended to a New Mexico desert without injury.

To this day, Kittinger’s two world records — the highest parachute jump, and the only man to break the sound barrier without an aircraft — still stand.

“I was humbled at the awe and majesty of space, by the certainty that He who made all this also made me,” Kittinger said. “Beyond any doubt, I knew that an omnipotent, omniscient Creator not only designed such beauty, but also keeps this endless celestial expanse and all it contains in perfect synchrony.”

When asked why he undertook such a dangerous mission, Kittinger gave an answer that any veteran would have given.

“I didn’t do it for personal glory; I did if for future aircrews and astronauts, who in turn will take risks as dangerous as mine for their country. The mission proved that men can survive in such a hostile environment while wearing only a thin pressurized space suit.

“I risked my life for America, and had she called me to accept the challenge of other dangerous missions, I would have accepted. I love this great country, and I am proud to be a veteran of the United States military.”

Colonel Kittinger, your fellow veterans and the American people thank you, and on every Memorial Day, we will remember and honor all servicemen and women who, like you, were, if called upon, willing to write a blank check for the last full measure of devotion.

Jimmy Reed (jimmycecilreedjr@gmail.com) is an Oxford, Mississippi resident, Ole Miss alumnus, Army veteran, former Mississippi Delta cotton farmer, and retired college teacher.

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