When I was eight years old, my dad took the family to see The Right Stuff. I was a spacey little kid interested in Star Wars and fantasy, but we also were read stories of real-life heroes, from Jackie Robinson to Benjamin Franklin to Louis Pasteur. I couldn't remember a time when I hadn't known about my father's interest in aviation and NASA. We lived less than 90 minutes from the Johnson Space Center, and visited frequently.
But by 1983, the names of the Mercury mission crew were no longer household names. Let alone Chuck Yeager. But as much as I admired those Mercury astronauts, and somehow got my head around what the movie was doing at age 8 - I think the person my brother and I asked about the most afterward was Chuck Yeager.
My idea of who Yeager is will forever be enmeshed with the portrayal of Yeager by Sam Shepard on the big screen (oddly and sadly, Shepard died before Yeager, passing a few years back). When I think of the heroes of post-WWII America, it's hard for me to not to put the idea of Chuck Yeager strapping himself into jet after jet and surviving, including that day when he got in the Bell X1. Ignoring the very real possibility of death, he pushed boundaries willingly - gladly, in fact. In a small, strange rocket with his wife's name painted on the nose.
I've read articles about him, seen him interviewed, and followed him on social media when he participated for a while. The first thing I look for at the Smithsonian is always the X1. The carefully crafted myth-making of cinema is just that - it's not who the man was, even when it is very much what he was and what he did.
I'm glad he lived long enough to see himself become a legend, and a hallmark of American grit and courage. I'm fine with Yeager being more myth than real in my mind.