“VETERANS COMMEMORATIVES: A DAY IN HISTORY” – Remembering Eddie Rickenbacker

A Medal of Honor recipient with 26 aerial victories, he is also considered to have won the most awards for valor by an American during World War I.

When Rickenbacker was 13, his father died and he left school to support his family. Always interested in machines and self-taught, he enrolled in a correspondence course in engineering eventually becoming a car salesman.

Prior to entering the War, Rickenbacker was a successful race car driver. Early in World War I, he wanted to join the Allied troops, however the U.S. had not yet entered the war. During these years he became acquainted with several aviators. One in particular was instrumental in his desire to become a pilot during the war.

 It wasn’t until 1917 when the United States declared war on Germany, that he enlisted in the Army and began training in France with some of the first American soldiers.  Most of the men who trained as pilots were college graduates. Because Rickenbacker lacked a college degree, he was assigned as an engineering officer with the U.S. Air Service’s training facility. During his free time he practiced flying and was eventually awarded a place in the 94th Aero Squadron.

On April 29, 1918 he shot down his first plane, and on May 28, after his fifth victory, he became an ace. Rickenbacker’s 26 victories was the American record until World War He flew 300 combat hours, more than any other U.S. pilot during World War I. When the Armistice was declared, he flew above to observe the ceasefire.

Rickenbacker was discharged in 1919, after being awarded the Distinguished Service Cross eight times. One of those awards was upgraded to the Medal of Honor. In addition, he was awarded the Legion of Honor and Croix de Guerre by France.

Although he was a celebrated pilot he chose to stay away from the limielight and turned down several movie offers. After the war, he went on a Liberty Bond tour and wrote about his memoir. In 1920 he founded the Rickenbacker Motor Company, incorporating features from racing cars. He later bought the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which he closed during World War II because he didn’t want to waste gasoline, a valuable resource during the war. After being part of management for Eastern Air Transport, he merged Eastern with Florida Airways to form Eastern Airlines. When he discovered that General Motors was planning to sell Eastern, he purchased the company.  He is credited with bringing faster airliners to Eastern Air Lines and promoting flying to the public.

In the mid 30’s Rickenbacker teamed up with an aviation artist and penned Ace Drummond, a comic strip series about the adventures of aviator Drummond. The successful comic strip later became a film series and radio program.

During World War II, Rickenbacker toured training bases and encouraged Americans to contribute to the war effort. He also pledged his airlines equipment and staff.

During his lifetime, Rickenbacker had more than one near-death experience. As a passenger traveling for business in 1941, his aircraft crashed near Atlanta. Gravely wounded, the press erroneously reported his death. The following year while he was touring air bases in the Pacific Theater, the B17 he was flying on went off course and was forced to ditch. For more than three weeks he and his fellow crewmen drifted at sea. Although one of his team didn’t survive the ordeal, the rest were rescued. Prior to them being found, the press once again reported his death.

Later in the war Rickenbacker traveled to the Soviet Union on a fact-finding mission. Because of previous conflicts he had with President Roosevelt, the War Department assisted him.  Although he was successful in his mission and he was interviewed by Winston Churchill, Roosevelt did not meet with him.

Because of his efforts during the war, Rickenbacker was awarded the Medal for Merit, which is given to civilians for their service to the U.S. Government.

Rickenbacker resigned from his position of Chairman of the Board of Eastern Air Lines in 1963. He and his wife traveled extensively after his retirement and also became a public speaker. In 1967 he completed his autobiography. In 1977 Rickenbacker died, after suffering from a stroke and pneumonia. At that time, he was the last living Medal of Honor recipient of the Air Service, U.S. Army.

As we celebrate Eddie Rickenbacker, who was born 127 years ago on October 8, Veterans Commemoratives (vetcom.com) proudly honors veterans who have served our country.

US ARMY CAREER SERVICE RING:  Handcrafted in America, this unique ring features your service branch emblem and your choice of career or service branch. Each ring is further personalized with your initials and years of service.

U.S. MILITARY “NIGHT PATROL” TACTICAL BLACK WATCH:  The watch features a large easy-to-read dial with your Service Emblem raised and polished above a black enamel background. The black case and strong PVC band complete the “Tactical” precision look as a tribute to your service to our country.

U.S. MILITARY ELITE BOMBER JACKET:  Inspired by the A-2 Military Bomber Jackets, this lighter weight jacket is made of fine, Napa leather. Personalized with your choice of a Service Branch emblem, as well as an optional War Patch and the American Flag, the Elite Bomber Jacket is a fitting tribute to those who served our country.

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