Originally appeared in The Daily.
Last week, two American aviators crashed their F-15E fighter jet outside Benghazi, leaving it a smoking wreck on the ground. When the airmen parachuted unharmed to safety, they may have wondered about a historic precursor, a lanky 24-year-old Norwegian-Englishman who crashed in eastern Libya more than 60 years earlier and was not so lucky. That pilot nearly died. And if he had, the world would be a poorer place because that pilot was Roald Dahl, among the world’s most beloved children’s authors. Dahl’s books (including “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “James and the Giant Peach”) make children and adults squeal with delight and shudder with horror, in part because his own life had its share of delight and horror both. On the night of Sept. 19, 1940, Dahl nearly burned to death under the stars in the Libyan desert.