This Famous Person Game - July 2016
by Mike McLeod
It is much easier to recognize World War I Ace and Medal of Honor recipient Eddie Rickenbacker in his uniform. Rickenbacker’s lifelong accomplishments, adventures and heroics would make for a good movie. In fact, they did and were told in Captain Eddie (20th Century Fox, 1945) starring Fred MacMurray. The movie has Rickenbacker telling tales of his life while adrift for 24 days with the crew of a B-17D Flying Fortress that ditched in the Pacific in 1942 while on a tour of bases.
It was during this time in his real life that a seagull landed on his head, and the bird helped sustain the seven souls in the life raft.
Eddie Rickenbacker was born on October 8, 1890 in Columbus, Ohio. He was enamored with cars and later with airplanes as a youth, and those desires bore fruit. Before WWI, he competed in the Indianapolis 500 four times, and after the war, he owned the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Rickenbacker became a pilot during WWI, and he is credited with shooting down 22 airplanes and four defended observation balloons. He was America’s top ace during the war.1 He received the Medal of Honor in 1930 for attacking seven enemy airplanes by himself on Sept. 25, 1918 and shooting down two of them. He also received seven Distinguished Service Crosses for bravery for attacking by himself from one to seven planes in each encounter. He also shot down one plane in those dogfights and drove off the rest.
After the war, Rickenbacker worked for General Motors. He convinced the company’s leadership to purchase air services and these were eventually combined to create Eastern Airlines. GM assigned him to head up Eastern Airlines, and later on, he bought it and ran it for years.
In 1941, Rickenbacker survived an airplane crash a year before the Flying Fortress ditched in the Pacific. This was on an Eastern Airlines plane that crashed near Atlanta. Seven people died in the crash, and Rickenbacker was at death’s door. The survivors weren’t found until the next morning. Severely injured, it was only by a force of will did Rickenbacker live through this and the following months of recovery. His injuries included broken ribs, shattered elbow, pelvis broken in two places, broken knee, fractured skull, and an eyeball out of socket.2 Initially, he was not expected to live. With ample reasons during his life, he once said, “I've cheated the Grim Reaper more times than anyone I know.”
Before owning the Indianapolis Speedway, Rickenbacker started his own automobile manufacturing company. With it, he introduced the first all-wheel braking system. Even so, the company was not successful in selling cars.
A true American hero and a patriot, Eddie Rickenbacker gave this wise counsel:
“Courage is doing what you are afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you are scared.”
“I can give you a six-word formula for success: Think things through—then follow through.”
“The four cornerstones of character on which the structure of this nation was built are: Initiative, Imagination, Individuality and Independence.”
Eddie Rickenbacker died on July 23, 1973 after suffering from a stroke and pneumonia.
Melinda Mobley correctly identified Eddie Rickenbacker.
Eddie Rickenbacker (Photos courtesy of Auburn University Libraries Special Collections and Archives)
This Capt. Eddie movie poster sold for $21 at Heritage Auctions in 2007. (Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions, HA.com)