On Tuesday, February 23 , 1943, Baxter Ireland—an experienced military pilot—took off from Pueblo, Colorado, in an army cargo plane headed for Denver. By all appearances, the flight was considered a routine one. His plane flew over Colorado Springs just past noon and continued flying northwest. Four minutes later, a schoolboy named Alex Montano heard an explosion and made a telephone call. Unfortunately, it was too late.
Five days later, a civilian patrol spotted the wreckage of Baxter’s plane strewn over a wide area near the crest of a tree-covered mountainside approximately 15 miles northwest of Colorado Springs. Upon further observation, Second Lieutenant Fred R. Baker deduced that the plane had crashed into the mountain during a dense fog. Baxter, his copilot Francis Clark, and his trainee Stancill Bolling were killed instantly.1 2
This story had quite an impact on me. Baxter LeRoy Ireland is my cousin. He died in the prime of his life and left his wife Josephine and his six-month-old son Roger behind. His death was a tragic one. A promising life that ended far too early.
Maybe It Could Have Been Me
When I read Baxter’s story, one of my first reactions was realizing that this very well could have been my story. Why not? Like myself, Baxter was trying his best to live a decent life. He had been active in Christian church circles and had attained the 32nd degree of the Masonic Order. He was serving his country and doing his best to raise a family.
When I came across this article several years ago, I discovered that I was Baxter’s age at the time of his death—33. That was a poignant moment. Although I can’t be certain, I would assume that Baxter didn’t have any premonition of his upcoming death when he took off from the airbase in Pueblo on February 23, 1943. He probably had other things on his mind. I can certainly relate to this. I’ll admit that I usually don’t have death on my mind and assume (perhaps a little naively) that I’ll live through any given day and that tomorrow will come.
Redeeming the Time
So why did Baxter have to die at the age of 33 and why did I keep on living? I really don’t know. Perhaps Baxter was ready to meet his Maker and I still have a lot of ground to cover before I arrive at the same spot. So, a worthwhile question might be, “What am I doing with my life?” Perhaps we could think of this in terms of a spiritual YOLO (You Only Live Once). Am I spending my time on things that won’t really matter or am I devoting each day towards worthwhile endeavors? No need to go to deeper, but I’ll admit that learning about the premature death of others can reap spiritual dividends if viewed in the right context.
In his epistle to the Ephesians, Paul stated we can be “redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”3 When I first came across this, I felt puzzled. What did that mean? As I looked into it further, I understood that Paul never knew which day would be his last. Paul experienced a great deal of persecution and wanted to make sure that every day counted if a tomorrow didn’t come.
I wasn’t in the plane taking off from Pueblo in 1943, but I know that my days are numbered. God knew when Baxter’s last day would be, but Baxter didn’t. And he knows when my last day will be, but I don’t. In my opinion, that should seem compelling enough to make my time matter.
- “Baxter Ireland, 33, Native of Kearney, Plane Crash Victim,” The Kearney Daily Hub, March 10, 1943.
- “Find Wreckage Of Plane Missing On Eastern Slop,” The Daily Sentinel, March 01, 1943.
- Eph. 5:16