• U.S.

HEROES: Captain Eddie

3 minute read

The Army merely announced that late in the afternoon of Oct. 21 Captain Eddie Rickenbacker’s plane radioed from somewhere in the Southwest Pacific that there was only one hour’s supply of gasoline left. Nothing was heard after that.

Tough, square-jawed Eddie Rickenbacker, ace of American flying aces in World War I, was on a special mission from Hawaii to a Pacific combat area for the Secretary of War. With him in the big four-motored bomber were seven others.

Army & Navy patrol planes soared over the blue waters, looking for the plane’s wreckage and, more hopefully, for yellow rubber life rafts which might be carrying Rickenbacker, his aides and crew. But in Honolulu, Army GHQ was gloomy.

Man with a Heavy Foot. At 52, Eddie Rickenbacker (ne Richenbacher) had, almost better than any other American, spanned the gap from youthful hero to solid citizen, from daring combat flyer to successful businessman. Young Eddie went to work at twelve in Columbus, Ohio: glass works, brewery, steel mill, monument works, shoe factory, bicycle shop. The shop was also an automobile garage. Eddie learned to drive, moved on to an auto factory, studied engineering via the International Correspondence School. It was speed that interested him. At 20, known on all racing tracks as a man “with a heavy foot,” he cleaned up $40,000 as a driver.

When World War I came, Eddie enlisted, wangled a job as chauffeur to General John J. Pershing. He drove him to the front lines only once. As a flyer Eddie was resourceful, by turns cautious and daring. No U.S. flyer learned so well the corkscrew roll which enabled him to see ahead, behind, above, below and to the side; none topped his bag of 21 German planes and four balloons.

Man with a Vision. When he came home half a dozen cities claimed Ace Rickenbacker as a native son. There was always a $10,000-or $12,000-a-year job with an automobile or aviation company waiting for Rickenbacker; he shuttled between the two. He also took over as operator of the Indianapolis Speedway; in his spare time he wrote adventure strips (Hall of Fame of the Air, Ace Drummond). In 1938 he found his real niche as the hard-driving president of Eastern Air Lines.

His whole vision was centered on expanded post-war aviation; but he knew that the U.S. was in World War II long before Pearl Harbor. Injuries received in an E.A.L. crash last year prevented an Army commission; the War Department found him useful on special missions.

Last week in Manhattan, his handsome, grey-haired wife waited at the telephone for further news. Said she: “He’s not reckless and he knows the air. He always said he was the darling of Lady Luck.”

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