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John Esson, 87
Canoga Park, California
John's earliest memories were of yearning to fly. When World War II broke out, he stood tall in his Royal Canadian Air Force uniform, but his slight size made him perfect for fitting into his plane's tiny tail gunner compartment. Rarely did he relish coming back to Earth. But there was that one time, on a bombing mission in 1945, when he was ordered to dump his bombs into the English Channel. The war was over. As a NASA engineer he helped send men to the moon and launch the Space Shuttle. From his home in Southern California he would watch rocket launches on the TV at night — whenever one was about to go off, he'd wake up his two children to watch it with him. And every chance he got, John himself soared into the blue in small planes, sharing the skies with his wife of 62 years, who followed him into the dark world of dementia before dying of a cerebral hemorrhage in 2008.
— Frank J. Yuvancic