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Eddie Rickenbacker

Posted by Jolly on January 28, 2008

 

Captain Eddie Rickenbacker was commander of the 94th Pursuit Squadron, Hat in the Ring Squadron, during World War 1. He became the top American Ace of the WW 1 and won our nations highest military award, The Medal of Honor. In addition to those tremendous achievements, he was also a successful race car driver prior to the War, the CEO of Eastern Airlines, and an elder statesman after the War.
 
Prior to WW 1, he had a job road-testing cars for Frayer-Miller and eventually became a racecar driver. He raced three times in the Indianapolis 500 and set a speed record of 134 mph in a Biltzen Benz. He became a very successful driver earning over $40,000 per year. By the way, that was a ton of coin back in the day. When WW 1 first broke out, Rickenbacker proposed a fighter squadron made up of racecar drivers to the U.S. government. His idea was rejected but his service to our country was accepted and he became a staff car driver during the initial days of the War. He was an excellent mechanic and, while fixing the car of General Billy Mitchell one day, he was able to grab Billy’s ear and convince him that he would make an excellent fighter pilot. He was off to pilot training at the ripe old age of 27, which in the day was considered to be too old for anyone to learn the art of flying fighters.
 
After completing pilot training, he was assigned to the newly formed 94th Pursuit Squadron. After initially being shuttled between several airfields in France, the 94th was finally bedded down at Toul, France where they unpacked, installed guns in their airplanes and selected the now famous “Hat in the Ring” insignia. That insignia is still used today by the 94th Fighter Squadron at Langley AFB, VA. On April 6 1918, Rickenback flew his first combat mission led by Major Roul Lufbery over the skies of Germany. After the sortie, Lufbery criticized Rickenbacker for not paying close enough attention to where he was flying and further proved his point by putting his fingers in the flak holes of Eddie’s Nieuport. Most of you know that today the term “Lufbery” refers to a neutral engagement with two fighters across the circle from each other. 

After several weeks of being assigned strafing missions, he was able to record his first aerial victory on April 29, 1918. Along with his flight lead, Captain James Hall, they engaged a German Pfalz fighter just over enemy lines. Diving out of the sun, Rickbacker stitched the German airplane with his gun and scored his first kill. In early May 1918, Capt Hall was shot down and captured by the Germans. Eddie Rickenbacker was made the new Squadron Commander of the 94th. He would lead them into battle over Germany during the final months of WW1. On 30 May, 1918, Eddie Rickenbacker scored his 4th and 5th kills to become an ace in the Neuport. The squadron then was assigned heavier aircraft new from the factory, the Spad. 
 

 
 
By the end of WW 1, Eddie Rickenbacker was credited with 27 aerial victories over the skies of France and Germany. During his tenure as commander of the 94th, he was always out front leading the way and demanded the most from his men. He was quoted as saying, “Every plane must be ready for takeoff at any moment, day or night, guns loaded, gassed, engine turned. Otherwise, the war could be lost.” Eventually, he was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1930. The citation was for his bravery during an engagement on 25 September 1918, where he attacked a formation of seven enemy aircraft and achieved three victories during the engagement.
 
After the War, Eddie Rickenbacker made a failed attempt at the automobile industry but unfortunately his company went bankrupt. Later in the 1930’s, he purchased a portion of Eastern Airlines and eventually became it’s President. He managed the company profitably for over 20 years. He was also actively involved with the Army Air Corps as an advisor during WW II. Later in life he became a spokesman for conservative causes. He became convinced that Government “Socialist Programs” were going to bankrupt our country. Sounds like both our Airline Industry and Nation could use a man like Eddie Rickenbacker today. He died in 1973 and is buried with his wife, Adelaide, with an unremarkable headstone for a man who had a remarkable life.

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