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An Ordinary Fellow with Silver Wings.

AS any fan OF THE 1980s movie Top Gun knows, the crackerjack pilot gets the girl, the girl who has purposefully sought out this prime-of-life male with the superior intellect and physical prowess. That's primal truth, it seems, not invented yesterday, just updated for the times.

World War II was the heyday of American pilots making girls on the ground swoon. Thanks to the sprawling war, there was a glut of military pilots, and of girls all over the nation involved in romantic relationships with them. He was "an ordinary fellow in a uniform I love," says the female narrator of the wartime song "He Wears a Pair of Silver Wings," and she waited anxiously for him to come home from the war. It wasn't a simple situation to live out: "But when I'm left alone and we're far apart," the lyric continues, "I sometimes wonder what tomorrow brings." Hostile fire was one fear, friendly women another.

"He Wears a Pair of Silver Wings" was one of those uncommon wartime songs that crossed the Atlantic Ocean from east to west. Its lyric about the pilot and his admiring girl came from Englishman Eric Maschwitz, a professional writer whose connection to the war was more substantial than just this pop song. Beginning in 1939, he served with British intelligence, penning propaganda for morale-draining leaflets that were dropped on the enemy. In 1941, he created an annotated fake map of Nazi territory in Latin America that made it into the hands of President Franklin Roosevelt and, despite its dubiousness, may have awakened the US government to the enemy threat south of the border.

The next creative work by Maschwitz to reach the United States was "He Wears a Pair of Silver Wings." The song arrived in 1942, after debuting the previous year in Britain. A handful of performers recorded it in the States, collectively keeping it on the Billboard charts for weeks. Kay Kyser and His Orchestra took it to number one, as American listeners presumed the hero was one of their own, even though he was actually a flier for the British Royal Air Force (a fact not mentioned in the lyrics).

Maschwitz was not an airman, but like the pilot in his wartime hit, he was sometimes a bit of a hero and sometimes just an ordinary fellow. "He has written a few songs that people sing, a few plays that are still occasionally performed," he later wrote about himself. "He has had great happiness from women and made several good women unhappy, seen men die beside him in a war, worked hard at too many things, honoured his father and mother and in general done his damnest (which is perhaps a poor substitute for his best)."

Carl Zebrowski

editor of America in WWII

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Title Annotation:78 RPM; Eric Maschwitz' "He Wears a Pair of Silver Wings"
Author:Zebrowski, Carl
Publication:America in WWII
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 1, 2019
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