This is how Eddie Rickenbacker earned 7 service crosses and the Medal of Honor

Once America entered World War I some of the first forces it sent to France were those of the newly-formed Air Service. Among those troops was a relatively famous racecar driver and mechanic who would become America’s ‘Ace of Aces’ during the war: Eddie Rickenbacker.

When Rickenbacker enlisted in the Army, he had dreams of flying but was shipped to France as a driver for the General Staff due to his experience as a racecar driver. His advanced age (27 at the time) and lack of a college degree also disqualified him for flight training – but he was undeterred.

Hispano-Suiza c 1914

(National Archives)

Assigned as the driver for Col. William ‘Billy’ Mitchell, Rickenbacker took the opportunity to bother him until the Colonel finally allowed him to attend pilot training. Rickenbacker still had to claim he was only 25 though.

Eddie completed pilot training in just 17 days and received his commission. However, Rickenbacker’s superior mechanical abilities from his days as a racecar driver sidetracked his flying career and got him assigned as the engineering officer at the Air Service Pursuit Training facility.

120514-F-DW547-003

(Air Force Museum photo)

After finding a replacement, Rickenbacker was finally assigned to a combat flying unit – the 94th Aero Squadron – in March 1918. The squadron began flying combat missions in early April, and Rickenbacker wasted no time getting in on the action. On April 29th, Rickenbacker scored his first aerial victory and also his first Distinguished Service Cross for a vigorous fight and pursuit of a plane into enemy territory to shoot it down.

During May 1918 Lt. Rickenbacker downed five more German airplanes while earning an additional four Distinguished Service Crosses, each time attacking and dispersing larger formations of enemy planes.

Rickenbacker, through a lucky streak that seemed to last his entire life, also gained a reputation for surviving close calls and crash landings. In July 1918 in a particularly harrowing incident, “he barely made it back from one battle with a fuselage full of bullet holes, half a propeller, and a scorched streak on his helmet where an enemy bullet had nearly found its mark.”

rickenbacker

(Air Force Museum photo)

A few days later he was grounded by an abscess in his ear but was back flying by the end of July. However, with his last kill at the end of May he would go many months without another victory.

Then on September 14, Rickenbacker started a remarkable streak, claiming his seventh kill and sixth Distinguished Service Cross. He downed another plane the next day. On September 25, he was promoted to Captain and made commander of the 94th Aero Squadron.

He promptly volunteered for a solo patrol, during which he encountered a flight of seven German planes below him. Rather than be thankful that no one saw him, he dived on the formation and attacked the shooting Germans, downed two enemy aircraft, and forced the rest to retreat. For this action, he was awarded his seventh Distinguished Service Cross.

Twelve years later, in 1930, this award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor.

EddieRickenbacker

(National Archives)

At the beginning of October, Capt. Rickenbacker had 12 aerial victories. He was the leading living American pilot and was dubbed the ‘Ace of Aces’ by the press. He disliked this title because all three previous holders died in combat.

Despite his discontent with the new title, Rickenbacker led the 94th through severe fighting until the end of the war. During that time, Rickenbacker shot down ten enemy aircraft and three balloons, making him an official “balloon buster.” He also earned his eighth Distinguished Service Cross of the war – a record that hasn’t been broken.

Capt. Rickenbacker ended World War I with a total of 26 aerial victories to his credit, the American ‘Ace of Aces’ for World War I and the rank of Major. The Army promoted Rickenbacker as he left active duty but he never claimed the promotion. He felt his “rank of Captain was earned and deserved.” The public referred to him to as “Captain Eddie” for the rest of his life.

Rickenbacker in 1926.

Rickenbacker in 1926. (Museum of History and Industry photo)

After the war, Rickenbacker went into many ventures in the automobile and aviation industries and survived many more brushes with death. He survived a near-fatal crash in early 1941 that had him out of action for almost a year. During World War II, while on a personal mission to deliver a message to Gen. MacArthur from President Roosevelt and to inspect American aviation facilities in the Pacific, the plane he was flying in lost its way and was forced to ditch in the Pacific Ocean.

Rickenbacker and the surviving crew members endured over three weeks of life rafts before rescue. Consistent with his dogged determination Rickenbacker completed his assignment before returning to the states, despite losing 60 pounds and suffering from severe sunburn.

image006

(For sale at RareNewspapers.com)

Rickenbacker, without formal education past age twelve, would eventually rise to control his own airline, Eastern Air Lines, and make it the only self-sufficient, free-enterprise – he accepted no government subsidies – airline in America for many years. He was also the majority owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway for many years during which time he significantly improved the track.

Captain Eddie retired in 1963. In 1972 he suffered a stroke, his last near-death experience. He recovered from the stroke but while visiting Switzerland he contracted pneumonia, and his luck finally ran out. He passed away July 23, 1973, at the age of 82 – a renowned fighter pilot and successful businessman.

 

TOP ARTICLES
These are the military traditions for deployed troops celebrating Thanksgiving

While you're deployed, weekends aren't really a thing — neither are most holidays. Thanksgiving, however, is a moment when the military slows down.

Forget multitasking, this Navy squadron has only one mission — rescue people

The Navy has an entire squadron for search and rescue, and it is the only squadron in the Navy that has an advance life-support helicopter platform.

How the Coast Guard intercepts half a million pounds of cocaine

For the last couple decades, the Coast Guard has pushed out further, taking more aggressive stabs at the flow of drugs that make their way into the U.S.

More remains of Special Forces soldier found in Niger

The Department of Defense announced that military investigators found additional remains that they have positively ID'd as Sgt. La David T. Johnson.

'Butcher of of Bosnia' sentenced to life in prison for genocide

"The Butcher of Bosnia" was handed a life sentence on November 22nd, 2017, for war crimes and the slaughter of 8,000 men and young children.

New engravings on the USMC War Memorial honor Iraq and Afghanistan Marines

On Nov. 22, the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial was updated to include Afghanistan and Iraq in the list of campaigns that runs along the memorial's base.

ISIS may focus on a virtual caliphate after losing real-world war

As the Islamic State loses the in real life war they've waged against the world, they've moved their game online- waging war in the virtual world.

Everything you need to know about Zimbabwe's ousted dictator

The dictator of Zimbabwe announced his resignation on Nov. 21, 2017 after the county's army took of the capital and family, forcing the resignation.

Watch this Marine get pinned by his 3-year-old son

Watch this adorable little boy steal into the hearts of all the Marines and civilians present as he promotes his dad and pins on his promoted rank.

Watch a North Korean defector dodging bullets to cross the DMZ

A North Korean attempting to defect to the South, who was found to be full of parasites, was shot by his fellow soldiers. We Are the Mighty has the video.