Our View: Chuck Yeager was one of a kind
Some acts rise to a level that they define the person who achieves them.
The first person to circumnavigate the globe, or prove that the Earth is round. The first person to climb Mount Everest, or fly in an airplane.
So it is with retired Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager — the first person to break the sound barrier.
Yeager, a longtime Nevada County resident, died Monday. His passing makes a mark on the timeline of human history. A man enshrined in history books, taking his place alongside people like Magellan, Neil Armstrong and Sally Ride. We honor the man not only because of what he achieved, but also because of the achievement for our country, and indeed, the world.
Great moments are made by great people, and both are deserving of recognition.
A few of us might still remember Oct. 14, 1947, when a 24-year-old man stepped inside a Bell X-1 rocket and broke the sound barrier. Kept secret for a year, the achievement, once announced, instilled pride in the person, the machinery and ourselves as a nation. Maybe you looked at your calendar when you learned the news, checked to see where you were that day. Maybe you stopped each year when Oct. 14 rolled around, just for a moment, and remembered.
It’s time to remember again.
Remember that Chuck Yeager was more than the man who broke past the speed at which sound travels. He served as a pilot during World War II, and shot down 13 German planes. During the Vietnam War he made bombing runs. He also commanded squadrons in the Air Force, as well as the research pilot school for astronauts.
He was also a neighbor and friend to many people in Nevada County, the place he chose to call home.
And we, the people of Nevada County, were proud to have him.
Maybe you saw him around town, at the sportsmen’s club or a barbershop. Bart Riebe, of Riebe’s Auto Parts, said Yeager often stopped by his business. Yeager once said Riebe needed a new office, and upon returning to his business after a vacation, he discovered Yeager had one built for him.
Yeager set his mind to a task, and completed it. If only all of us had that tenacity.
Figures like Yeager — and Magellan, and Armstrong and countless others — build foundations in human accomplishment. We look to their past achievements because they pave the way for future ones.
We’ll point to Yeager when someone finds the cure for cancer. We’ll point to him when the first human steps on the surface of Mars.
There’s a reason we build a pantheon of human achievement, and keep adding to it as the years pass. It shows what we can do, and reminds us that more needs to be done.
There’s no end to what we can accomplish, no final point at which human achievement stops. People like Yeager make their mark on history, and in that mark tell others that there are many more to come.
Yes, there will be setbacks. There always are. That’s another reason we look to those who have broken barriers we thought unbreakable. They show us that what we might think is impossible is within grasp. We just have to reach out and grab it.
And if someone tells you that what you or our nation or humankind is trying to achieve is impossible, think about what Chuck Yeager might have said to someone who questioned his ability to travel the speed of sound.
“Then I’ll just go faster.”
The weekly Our View editorial represents the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.
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