Tag Archives: Croix de Guerre

23 April 1918

1st Lieutenant Paul Frank Baer, Air Service, United States Army. (Campbell Studios, New York)

23 April 1918: at 09:55 a.m., near Saint-Gobain, France, 1st Lieutenant Paul Frank Baer, 103rd Aero Squadron (Pursuit), shot down an enemy Albatross C two-place biplane. This was Baer’s fifth victory in aerial combat, making him the first American “ace.” ¹ [Official credit for this shoot-down is shared with Lt. C. H. Wilcox.]

Albatros C.VII C.2197/16 (Wikipedia)

Paul Frank Baer was born 29 January 1894 at Fort Wayne, Indiana, the fourth of four children of Alvin E. Baer, a railroad engineer, and Emma B. Parent Baer.

In 1916, Baer served under Brigadier John J. General Pershing during the Mexican Expedition to capture the outlaw and revolutionary Francisco (“Pancho”) Villa. He then went to France and enlisted the Aéronautique Militaire, in 20 February 1917. He was sent for flight training at the Avord Groupemant des Divisions d’Entrainment (G.D.E.). He graduated as a pilot, 15 June 1917, with the rank of corporal.

After flight training, Corporal Baer was assigned to Escadrille SPA 80, under the command of Capitaine Paul Ferrand, 14 August 1917 to 20 January 1918, flying the SPAD S.VII C.1 and SPAD S.XIII C.1. Baer was next transferred to Escadrille N. 124, the Escadrille Américaine, under Georges Thénault. This unit was equipped with the Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29 C1.

Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29C.1, s/n 12002, right front quarter view.

After the United States entered the War, Baer was transferred to the 103rd Aero Squadron, American Expeditionary Forces, and commissioned as a 1st Lieutenant with a date of rank retroactive to 5 November 1917. At that time, the 103rd was under the command of Major William Thaw II, and was operating near La Cheppe, France, flying the SPAD S.VII C.1 chasseur.

SPAD S.XIII C.1 S7714 of the 103rd Aero Squadron, France, 1918. The pilot is Captain Robert Soubiran, the squadron’s commanding officer. (U.S. Air Force)

Lieutenant Baer is officially credited by the United States Air Force with 7.75 enemy airplanes shot down between 11 March and 22 May 1918, ² and he claimed an additional 7. (Credit for two airplanes was shared with four other pilots.) After shooting down his eighth enemy airplane on 22 May 1918, Baer and his SPAD S.XIII C.1 were also shot down. He was seriously injured and was captured by the enemy near Armentières and held as a Prisoner of War. At one point, Baer was able to escape for several days before being recaptured.

For his service in World War I, 1st Lieutenant Paul Frank Baer was awarded the United States’ Distinguished Service Cross with one oak leaf cluster (a second award). He was appointed Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur by Raymond Poincaré, the President of France. He was also awarded the Croix de Guerre with seven palms.

SPAD S.XIII C.1 at Air Service Production Center No. 2, Romorantin Aerodrome, France, 1918. (U.S. Air Force)

After World War I, Baer, as a “soldier of fortune,” organized a group of pilots to fight against “the Bolsheviks” in Poland. He returned to the United States, departing Boulogne-sur-mer aboard T.S.S. Nieuw Amsterdam, and arriving at New York City, 4 November 1919. He then flew as a test pilot, an air mail pilot in South America, and worked as an aeronautical inspector for the U.S. Department of Commerce, based at Brownsville Airport, Texas. In 1930, he was employed as a pilot for the China National Aviation Corporation.

Baer was flying from Nanking to Shanghai for with an amphibious Loening Air Yacht biplane, named Shanghai. The airplane crashed after striking the mast of a boat on the Huanpu River. He died at the Red Cross Hospital at Shanghai, China, at 9:00 a.m., 9 December 1930. A Chinese pilot, K. F. Pan, and an unidentified female passenger were also killed. General Hsiung Shih-hui and four other passengers on board were seriously injured.

Paul Baer’s remains were returned to the United States aboard S.S. President McKinley and were buried at the Lindenwood Cemetery in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

In 1925 a new airport was opened in Fort Wayne and named Paul Baer Municipal Airport. During World War II, the airport was taken over by the military and designated Baer Army Airfield. It is now Fort Wayne International Airport (FWA).

A CNAC Loening Air Yacht amphipian at Lungwha, China, circa 1930. (SFO Aviation Museum & Library R2014.1811.001)
Lufbery

¹ TDiA would like to thank CMSgt Bob Laymon USAF (Ret.) (AKA, “Scatback Scribe”) for pointing out that while Lt. Baer was the first American to become an ace flying in the American service, that,

“The first American Ace was actually Gervais Raoul V. Lufbery, an American immigrant that was serving with the French Air Service when he shot down his 5th German plane in 1916: http://www.veterantributes.org/TributeDetail.php?recordID=903

² U.S. AIR SERVICE VICTORY CREDITS, WORLD WAR I, USAF Historical Study No. 133, Historical Reserch Division, Air University, Maxwell Ir Force Base, Alabama, June 1969, at Page 7

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 October 1918

Wing Commander William George Barker, VC, DSO and Bar, MC and two Bars, Royal Air Force, Angleterre, 1918. (Library and Archives Canada)
Wing Commander William George Barker, V.C., D.S.O. and Bar, M.C. and Two Bars, Royal Air Force, England, 1918. (Swaine / Bibliothèque et Archives Canada / PA-122516)

Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 09.15.01Air Ministry,

30th November, 1918.

     His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to confer the Victoria Cross on the undermentioned Officers of the Royal Air Force, in recognition of bravery of the highest possible order :—

     Capt. (A./Major) William George Barker, D.S.O., M.C., No. 201 Sqn., R.A. Force.

     On the morning of 27th October, 1918, this officer observed an enemy two-seater over Fôret de Mormal. He attacked this machine, and after a short burst it broke up in the air. At the same time a Fokker biplane attacked him, and he was wounded in the right thigh, but managed despite this, to shoot down the enemy aeroplane in flames.

     He then found himself in the middle of a large formation of Fokkers, who attacked him from all directions; and was again severely wounded in the left thigh, but succeeded in driving down two of the enemy in a spin.

     He lost consciousness after this, and his machine fell out of control. On recovery he found himself being again attacked heavily by a large formation, and singling out one machine, he deliberately charged and drove it down in flames.

     During this fight his left elbow was shattered and he again fainted, on on regaining consciousness he found himself still being attacked, but, notwithstanding that he was now severely wounded in both legs and his left arm shattered, he dived on the nearest machine and shot it down in flames.

     Being greatly exhausted, he dived out of the fight to regain our lines, but was met with another formation, which attacked and endeavoured to cut him off, but after a hard fight he succeeded in breaking up this formation and reached our lines, where he crashed on landing.

     This combat, in which Major Barker destroyed four enemy machines (three of them in flames), brought his total successes up to fifty enemy machines destroyed, and is a notable example of the exceptional bravery and disregard of danger which this very gallant officer has always displayed throughout his distinguished career.

     Major Barker was awarded the Military Cross on 10th January, 1917; first Bar on 18th July, 1917; the Distinguished Service Order on 18th February, 1918; second Bar to Military Cross on 16th September, 1918; and Bar to Distinguished Service Order on 2nd November, 1918.

The London Gazette, Second Supplement to The London Gazette of FRIDAY, the 29th of NOVEMBER 1918, Number 31042 at Pages 14203, 14204

The Victoria Cross was presented to Major Barker at Buckingham Palace, 1 March 1919. Still recovering from his wounds, Barker could only walk a few paces to receive the medal.

Captain William G. Barker’s Sopwith Snipe 7F.1, E8102. (Royal Air Force Museum)

William George Barker is Canada’s most highly-decorated military serviceman. He was born 3 November 1894 at Dauphin, in the Parkland Region of Manitoba, Canada. He was the first of nine children of George William John Barker, a farmer, and Jane Victoria Alguire Barker.

William G. Barker’s medals. Left to right: Victoria Cross; Distinguished Service Order and Bar; Military Cross and two Bars; 1914–1915 Star; British War Medal; Victory Medal with Mention in Despatches leaf spray; Medaglia d’argento al valor militare (Italy), Croix de guerre with star (France): and a second Silver Medal of Military Valor. (Canadian War Museum)

At the opening of World War I, Barker, having previously served with the 32nd Manitoba Horse, enlisted as a trooper with the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles. He was trained as a machine gunner and sent to Europe with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. His unit fought in the 3rd Battle of Ypres. In early 1917, Barker volunteered as a gunner in the Royal Flying Corps, and after training, was commissioned a second lieutenant. He flew as an observer and gunner aboard a Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2. Lieutenant Barker shot down at least two enemy aircraft, and was instrumental in calling artillery fire on massed enemy troops. He and his pilot were awarded the Military Cross.

From December 1916 to February 1917, Lieutenant Barker went through pilot training in England. It is reported that he soloed after less than one hour of instruction. After qualifying as a pilot, he returned to the Continent, serving with No. 15 Squadron. In May 1917, Barker was promoted to the rank of captain and placed in command of one of the squadron’s flights. During this period, Captain Barker was awarded a Bar to his Military Cross (a second award). Barker was wounded in August 1917 and was returned to England to recuperate, then spent some time as a flight instructor. He returned to France in October.

Captain Barker was transferred to 28 Squadron and assigned a Sopwith Camel F.1, B.6313. The squadron was sent to Italy, where Hawker engaged in attacking balloons and enemy facilities. He was promoted to major and awarded the Distinguished Service Order and a second bar to his Military Cross (a third award).

William George Barker, V.C., D.S.O. and Bar, M.C. and Two Bars, Royal Air Force, 1919. (Toronto Star)
Wing Commander William George Barker, V.C., D.S.O. and Bar, M.C. and Two Bars, Royal Air Force, 1919. (Toronto Star)

In the battle in which he earned the Victoria Cross, 27 October 1918, Barker was flying a Sopwith Snipe F7.1, E8102. He was very seriously wounded. In addition to the decorations of the United Kingdom, he was awarded the Croix de Guerre of France, and Italy’s Medaglia d’Argento al Valore Militare.

Barker flew more than 900 hours in combat during World War I. He is officially credited with destroying 50 enemy aircraft, including 9 balloons. All but the last four enemy airplanes were destroyed while flying B6313, his personal Sopwith Camel. (B6313 shot down more aircraft than any other fighter in history.)

Returning to Canada at the end of the War, he and fellow Canadian ace Billy Bishop formed Bishop-Barker Company, Ltd., and then Bishop-Barker Aeroplanes, a charter, aircraft sales and maintenance company.

William Barker married Miss Jean Bruce Kilbourn Smith, 1 June 1921, at Grace Church on-the-Hill, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. They had one daughter, Jean Antoinette Barker.

Billy Barker returned to military service with the newly-formed Canadian Air Force and was commissioned a wing commander. He was assigned to command Camp Borden Air Station. In 1924, Wing Commander Barker was assigned as Acting Director, the highest position in the C.A.F., until the creation of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Barker was then assigned as a liaison officer to the Royal Air Force. He attended the Royal Air Force Staff College from May 1925 to March 1926. Barker resigned from the R.C.A.F. in 1926, refusing to serve under an officer he did not respect.

Wing Commander William George Barker, V.C., D.S.O. and Bar, M.C. and Two Bars, Acting Director, Canadian Air Force, 1 April 1924–18 May 1924. (DND Archives RE64-236)

After leaving the military service, Barker worked at several positions, including the first president of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team. In 1930, he joined Fairchild Aircraft as a vice-president.

On 12 March 1930, while demonstrating a Fairchild KR-21, CF-AKR (s/n 1021) at Rockcliffe Air Station near Ottawa, Ontario, the airplane went out of control and crashed onto the ice-bound Ottawa River. William George Barker was killed. He was just 35 years old.

Wreck of Fairchild KR-21 CF-AKR (DND Archives RE74-165)

Following a state funeral, the body of Wing Commander William George Barker, V.C., D.S.O. and Bar, M.C. and Two Bars, Royal Canadian Air Force, was interred at Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. More than 50,000 people lined the streets leading to the cemetery.

William George Barker Memorial at Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Ontario War Memorials)
William George Barker Memorial at Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Ontario War Memorials)

The Sopwith Snipe 7F.1 was a single-engine, two-bay biplane designed by Herbert Smith to replace the Sopwith Camel F.1. Fifteen Snipes were sent to France in August 1918 for evaluation. William Barker selected one of these, E8102, as his personal airplane. The Snipe was 19 feet, 10 inches (6.045 meters) long with a wingspan of 31 feet, 1 inch (9.474 meters) and overall height of 9 feet, 6 inches ( meters). It had an empty weight of 1,312 pounds (595 kilograms) and gross weight of 2,020 pounds (916 kilograms).

Sopwith Snipe 7F.1. B9966, the fifth prototype, was used for development testing at Martlesham Heath.. (BAE Systems)

The Snipe was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 24.938 liter (1,521.808 cubic-inch-displacement) Bentley BR.2 nine-cylinder rotary engine, manufactured by Humber, Ltd., Coventry, England. The engine had a compression ratio of 5.2:1 and was rated at 200 horsepower at 1,250 r.p.m.

Sopwith Snipe 7F.1, left front quarter. (Royal Air Force Museum)
Sopwith Snipe 7F.1, front view. (Wingnut Wings)
Sopwith Snipe 7F.1 E8006, left rear quarter. (Royal Air Force Museum)

The Snipe had a maximum speed of 121 miles per hour (195 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), and a service ceiling of 25,000 feet (7,620 meters).

The fighter was armed with two Vickers .303 Mk.I machine guns synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc.

Sopwith Snipe 7F.1 E8044, right rear quarter.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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14–15 October 1927

Costes and Le Brix flew this Breguet XIX GR, No. 1685, named Nungesser-Coli, across the South Atlantic Ocean 14–15 October 1927.
Dieudonné Costes

14–15 October 1927: Dieudonné Costes and Joseph Le Brix flew a Breguet XIX GR, serial number 1685, across the South Atlantic Ocean from Saint-Louis, Senegal, to Port Natal, Brazil.

This was the first non-stop South Atlantic crossing by an airplane. The 2,100-mile (3,380 kilometer) flight took just over 18 hours.

The two aviators were on an around-the-world flight that began 10 October 1927 at Paris, France, and would be completed 14 April 1928, after traveling 34,418 miles (57,000 kilometers).

Costes had been a test pilot for Breguet since 1925. He served as a fighter pilot during World War I and was credited with six aerial victories. He had been appointed Commandeur Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur and awarded the Croix de Guerre with seven palms, and the Médaille militaire.

Following the around-the-world flight, the Congress of the United States, by special act, awarded him the Distinguished Flying Cross.

In 1929, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale awarded him its Gold Air Medal, and the International League of Aviators awarded him the Harmon Trophy “for the most outstanding international achievement in the arts and/or science of aeronautics for the preceding year, with the art of flying receiving first consideration.”

Joseph Le Brix (1899–1931)
Joseph Le Brix

Capitain de Corvette Joseph Le Brix was a French naval officer. He had trained as a navigator, aerial observer and pilot. For his service in the Second Moroccan War, he was appointed to the Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur and awarded the Croix de Guerre. Like Costes, Le Brix was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by the U.S. Congress.

The Breguet XIX GR (“GR” stands for Grand Raid) had been named Nungesser-Coli in honor of the two pilots who disappeared while attempting a crossing the Atlantic Ocean in the White Bird, 8 May 1927. It was developed from the Type XIX light bomber and reconnaissance airplane, which entered production in 1924. A single-engine, two-place biplane with tandem controls, it was primarily constructed of aluminum tubing, covered with sheet aluminum and fabric. The biplane was a “sesquiplane,” meaning that the lower of the two wings was significantly smaller than the upper. Approximately 2,400 Breguet XIXs were built.

Dieudonné Costes and Joseph Le Brix in their Breguet XIX, photographed in Panama, 1 january 1928, by Lt. C. Tuma, U.S. Army Air Corps. (National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)
Dieudonné Costes and Joseph Le Brix in their Breguet XIX, photographed in Panama, 1 January 1928, by Lt. C. Tuma, U.S. Army Air Corps. (National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)

No. 1685 was a special long-distance variant, with a 2,900–3,000 liter fuel capacity (766–792 gallons). It was further modified to add 1 meter to the standard 14.83 meter (48 feet, 7.9 inches) wingspan, and the maximum fuel load was increased to 3,500 liters (925 gallons).

The original 590 horsepower Hispano-Suiza 12Hb engine was replaced with a more powerful Hispano-Suiza 12Lb. This was a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 31.403-liter (1,916.33-cubic-inch-displacement) overhead valve 60° V-12 engine, with 2 valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 6.2:1. The 12Lb produced 630 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m., burning 85 octane gasoline. The engine was 1.850 meters (6 feet, 0.8 inches) long, 0.750 meters (2 feet, 5.5 inches) wide and 1.020 meters (3 feet, 4.2 inches) high. It weighed 440 kilograms (970 pounds).

The Breguet XIX had a speed of 214 kilometers per hour (133 miles per hour). Its service ceiling was 7,200 meters (23,620 feet).

The Breguet XIX GR No. 1685, Nungesser-Coli, at le musée de l'air et de l'espace (MAE) du Bourget.
The Breguet XIX GR No. 1685, Nungesser-Coli, at le musée de l’air et de l’espace (MAE) du Bourget.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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25 September 1920

Test pilot Joseph Sadi-Lecointe with a Nieuport Delâge Ni-D 40R World record-setting biplane.
Test pilot Joseph Sadi-Lecointe with a Nieuport Delâge Ni-D 40R World Altitude Record-setting biplane, circa 1923. (Bibliothèque nationale de France)

25 September 1920: At Villesauvage-La Marmogne, France, Joseph Sadi-Lecointe flew a Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29V to set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over 100 Kilometers. His average speed was 279.50 kilometers per hour (173.67 miles per hour).¹

Three days later, 28 September 1920, Sadi-Lacointe won the Gordon Bennett Aviation Trophy Race with a Ni-D 29V. He set four FAI world speed records with these airplanes, reaching a maximum 302.53 kilometers per hour (187.98 miles per hour) on 20 October 1920.²

Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29V
One of three Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29V racers. Sadi-Lecointe flew this airplane, #10, to win the Gordon Bennett Aviation Trophy. (Unattributed)

Sadi-Lecointe’s Ni-D 29V was one of three racing variants of the highly successful single-engine, single-seat Ni-D 29C.1 biplane fighter, which was the fastest in the world at the time. The Ni-D 29V was 21 feet, 3.5 inches (6.489 meters) long, with a wing span of just 6.00 meters (19 feet, 8¼ inches), shortened from the 31 feet, 10 inch (9.703 meters) wingspan of the standard production chasseur.

This right rear-quarter view of a Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29V shows the shortned single-bay wing configuration. (United States Air Force)
This right rear-quarter view of one of the three Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29V racers shows the shortened single-bay wing configuration. (United States Air Force)

The airplane was powered by a water-cooled, normally aspirated, 1,127.29-cubic-inch displacement (18.47 liter) right-hand tractor Hispano-Suiza 8Fb single overhead cam (SOHC) 90° V-8 engine, modified to increase its output to 320 horsepower. This was a direct-drive engine, and turned a two-bladed-fixed pitch propeller.

The standard airplane had a top speed of 235 kilometers per hour (146 miles per hour), a range of 580 kilometers (360 miles) and a service ceiling of 8,500 meters (27,887 feet).

Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29C.1, s/n 12002, right front quarter view.
Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29 C.1, s/n 12002, right front quarter view. (worldmilitary.net)
Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29C.1, s/n 12002, right profile.
Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29 C.1, s/n 12002, right profile. A well-known landmark can be seen at the left edge of the photograph. (worldmilitary.net)
Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29C.1, s/n 12002, right rear three-quarter view.
Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29 C.1, s/n 12002, right rear three-quarter view. (worldmilitary.net)

Joseph Sadi-Lecointe learned to fly in 1910. The Aero Club de France awarded him its license number 431 on 10 February 1910.

He joined the Service Aéronautique (the original form of the French Air Force) as a mechanic in October 1912, and was designated pilote militaire nº375, 20 September 1913. He served as a pilot during World War I, flying the Blériot XI-2, Morane LA and Nieuport X, then in December 1915 became a flight instructor at l’Ecole de Pilotage d’Avord. Sadi-Lacointe was promoted from the enlisted ranks to sous-lieutenant, 17 September 1917, and was assigned as a test pilot at BlériotSociété Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés, where he worked on the development of the famous SPAD S.XIII C.1 fighter.

Joseph Sadi-Lecointe was a test pilot for the Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés SPAD S.XIII C.1 fighter
Sous-Lieutenant Joseph Sadi-Lecointe was a test pilot for the Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés SPAD S.XIII C.1 fighter. (Bibliothèque nationale de France)

After the War, he was a test pilot for Nieuport-Delâge, and participated in numerous races and set a series of speed and altitude records with the company’s airplanes.

Sadi-Lecointe returned to military service in 1925 and participated in the Second Moroccan War. Then in 1927, he returned to his position as chief test pilot for Nieuport-Delâge. From 1936 to 1940, he served as Inspector General of Aviation for the French Air Ministry. With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Lieutenant Colonel Sadi-Lecointe was again recalled to military service as Inspector of Flying Schools.

With the Fall of France, Sadi-Lacointe joined La Résistance française, and operated with the group, Rafale Andromède. He was captured and tortured by the Gestapo at Paris, and died as a result, 15 July 1944.

Joseph Sadi-Lecointe, Commandeur Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur, was awarded the Croix de Guerre in three wars. He was posthumously awarded the Médaille de la Résistance. The Aéro-Club de France awarded him its Grande Médaille d’Or de l’Aéro-Club de France. During his flying career, Sadi-Lecointe set seven World Records for Speed, and three World Records for Altitude.

Joseph Sadi-Lecointe. (FAI)
Joseph Sadi-Lecointe.  (FAI)

¹ FAI Record File Number 15489

² FAI Record File Number 15499

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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25 September 1918

Captain Edward V. Rickenbacker, Air Service, American Expeditionary Force.

The President of the United States
in the name of The Congress
takes pleasure in presenting the

Medal of Honor

to

EDWARD V. RICKENBACKER 

Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, 94th Aero Squadron, Air Service.

Place and date: Near Billy, France, 25 September 1918.

Entered service at: Columbus, Ohio. Born: 8 October 1890, Columbus, Ohio.

G.O. No.: 2, W.D., 1931.

Citation:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy near Billy, France, 25 September 1918. While on a voluntary patrol over the lines, 1st Lt. Rickenbacker attacked seven enemy planes (five type Fokker, protecting two type Halberstadt). Disregarding the odds against him, he dived on them and shot down one of the Fokkers out of control. He then attacked one of the Halberstadts and sent it down also.

Eddie Rickenbacker’s Medal of Honor at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Edward Reichenbacher was born 8 October 1890 at Columbus, Ohio. He was the third of seven children of Wilham and Elizabeth Reichenbacher, both immigrants to America from Switzerland. His formal education ended with the 7th grade, when he had to find work to help support the family after the death of his father in 1904. He worked in the automobile industry and studied engineering through correspondence courses. Reichenbacher was a well known race car driver and competed in the Indianapolis 500 race four times. He was known as “Fast Eddie.”

"Fast Eddie" Rickenbacker raced this Deusenberg in the 1914 Indianapolis 500 mile race. He finished in 10th place. (Coburg)
“Fast Eddie” Rickenbacker raced this red, white and blue Deusenberg in the 1914 Indianapolis 500-mile race. He finished in 10th place with an average speed of 70.8 miles per hour (113.9 kilometers per hour), and won $1,500 in prize money. (Coburg)

With the anti-German sentiment that was prevalent in the United States during World War I, Reichenbacher felt that his Swiss surname sounded too German, so he changed his name to “Rickenbacker.” He thought that a middle name would sound interesting and selected “Vernon.”

The United States declared war against Germany in 1917. Edward Vernon Rickenbacker enlisted in the Aviation Section, Signal Corps, United States Army, at New York City, 28 May 1917. He was appointed a sergeant, 1st class, on that date. After arriving in France, Sergeant Rickenbacker served as a driver for General John Pershing.

On 10 October 1917, Sergeant Rickenbacker was honorably discharged to accept a commission as a 1st lieutenant. Two weeks later, Lieutenant Rickenbacker was promoted to the rank of captain. He was assigned to 3rd Aviation Instruction Center, Issoudun, France, until 9 April 1918, and then transferred to the 94th Aero Squadron as a pilot.

Identity card for Captain E. V. Rickenbacker (National Museum of the United States Air Force)

Captain Rickenbacker served with the American Expeditionary Forces in France, and served during the following campaigns: Champagne-Marne, Aisne-Marne, Oise-Aisne, St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne. Between 29 April and 30 October 1918, Rickenbacker was officially credited with 26 victories in aerial combat, consisting of 20 airplanes and 6 balloons. He shot down the first six airplanes while flying a Nieuport 28 C.1, and the remainder with a SPAD S.XIII C.1., serial number S4253.

1st Lieutenant Edward V. Rickenbacker in the cockpit of a Nieuport 28 C.1 fighter, France, 1918. (U.S. Air Force)

Rickenbacker was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross with seven bronze oak leaf clusters (eight awards). France named him a Chevalier de la légion d’honneur and twice  awarded him the Croix de Guerre with Palm.

Eddie Rickenbacker is quoted as saying, “Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.”

First Lieutenant Edward V. Rickenbacker with his SPAD S.XIII C.1, 94th Aero Squadron, France, 1918. (U.S. Air Force)
First Lieutenant Edward V. Rickenbacker, 94th Aero Squadron, in the cockpit of his SPAD XIII C.1, 18 October 1918. (U.S. Army Signal Corps)
First Lieutenant Edward V. Rickenbacker, 94th Aero Squadron, in the cockpit of his SPAD XIII C.1, 18 October 1918. (U.S. Army Signal Corps)

In 1930, after Charles A. Lindbergh, Commander Richard E. Byrd, Jr., and Warrant Officer Floyd Bennett had each been awarded the Medal of Honor for valorous acts during peacetime, the 71st Congress of the United States passed a Bill (H.R. 325): “Authorizing the President of the United States to present in the name of Congress a congressional medal of honor to Captain Edward V. Rickenbacker.”

In a ceremony at Bolling Field, the headquarters of the U.S. Army Air Corps, 6 November 1930, the Medal of Honor was presented to Captain Rickenbacker by President Herbert Hoover. President Hoover remarked,

“Captain Rickenbacker, in the name of the Congress of the United States, I take great pleasure in awarding you the Congressional Medal of Honor, our country’s highest decoration for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above an beyond the call of duty in action. At a stage in the development of aviation when you were achieving victories which made you the universally recognized ‘Ace of Aces’ of the American forces. Your record is an outstanding one for skill and bravery, and is a source of pride to your comrades and your countrymen.

“I hope that your gratification in receiving the Medal of Honor will be as keen as mine in bestowing it. May you wear it during many years of happiness and continued service to your country.”

In 1920, Rickenbacker founded the Rickenbacker Motor Company, which produced the first automobile with four wheel brakes.

Adelaide Frost Durant (Auburn University Libraries)
Adelaide Frost Durant (Auburn University Libraries)

Eddie Rickenbacker married Adelaide Pearl Frost (formerly, the second Mrs. Russell Durant) at Greenwich, Connecticut, 16 September 1922. They would later adopt two children.

From 1927 to 1945, he owned the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 1938, he bought Eastern Air Lines, which he had operated for General Motors since 1935. He was the chief executive officer (CEO) until 1959, and remained chairman of the board of directors until 1963.

In 1941, Rickenbacker was gravely injured in the crash of an Eastern Air Lines DC-3 aboard which he was a passenger. He barely survived.

During World War II, Rickenbacker was requested by Secretary of War Henry Stimson to undertake several inspection tours in the United States, England, the Pacific and the Soviet Union. While enroute to Canton Island from Hawaii, 21 October 1942, the B-17D Flying Fortress that he was traveling aboard missed its destination due to a navigation error. The bomber ran out of fuel and ditched at sea. The survivors drifted in two small life rafts for 21 days before being rescued. All credited the leadership of Rickenbacker for their survival.

Rickenbacker was a member of the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, the predecessor of NASA.

Edward Vernon Rickenbacker died of heart failure at Neumünster Spital, Zollikerberg, Zürich, Switzerland, at 4:20 a.m., 23 July 1973. He was 82 years, 10 months of age.

SPAD S.XIII C.1, s/n 16594, built October 1918 by Kellner et ses Fils, Paris (U.S. Air Force)
This restored SPAD S.XIII C.1, s/n 16594, built October 1918 by Kellner et ses Fils, Paris, is in the the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. It is painted in the markings of Captain Edward Vernon Rickenbacker’s fighter. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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