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Top American Fighter Ace
of World War I
Born Columbus, Ohio
October 8, 1890 - July 23 1973
Edward Vernon Rickenbacker saw the beginnings of, and made significant contributions to the growth of both the automotive and aviation industries. At the age of 13, his father's death forced him to support his family. He progressed from a mechanic to a sales management position in the auto industry by the age of 19. By the age of 22 he became a full time automobile race driver gaining banner headline victories across the country.
At the outbreak of World War I, he entered the service as a driver for General "Black Jack'' Pershing, Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces. Once reaching France, several friends, including Billy Mitchell, cut red tape and enrolled him in pilot training. In March, 1918. he was transferred to the 94th Aero Squadron, two months later achieving his first combat victory. Taking on the best the German Air Force could offer, including the famous "Flying Circus", Eddie Rickenbacker soon became an ace, a Captain, and Commander of the 94th Aero Squadron. By the end of the war he was officially credited with 26 individual victories, becoming America's "Ace of Aces."
After the War, he rejoined the auto industry with a car of his own, the Rickenbacker, a car with innovations too advanced for its time and not a notable success. After this venture, he became owner of the Indianapolis Speedway, joined the Cadillac Division of General Motors, and became Vice President of American Airways in 1932. In 1935 he was appointed Generaal Manager of Eastern Airlines, and in 1953 became Chairman of the Board.
During World War II, Captain Rickenbacker assisted in the formation of the military air transport service and served as special advisor to Secretary of War. While on his way to the Philippines, his plane was forced to ditch in the Pacific and for 24 days he and his crew fought for survival*. This episode became one of the epic war stories, the success of which was credited to Rickenbacker's indomitable will. His memory and example will live to inspire Americans to dream and to make their own dreams come true.
Invested 1966 in the International Aerospace Hall of Fame
From "These We Honor," The International Hall of Fame; The San Diego Aerospace Museum, San Diego, CA. 1984
*An interesting item about his ordeal in the Pacific after his plane was ditched--at
the time, a newspaper account mentioned that a gull landed on his head while he and his
men were afloat. He grabbed its legs and the men were provided an addition to their
Another reader adds: Eddie was often seen feeding sea gulls in appreciation for it was a sea gull that helped save his life. Eddie once wrote: "Courage is doing something you didn't think you could do."
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Updated: March 12, 2004