1Lt. EDWARD V. RICKENBACKER, (Air Mission)
94th Aero Squadron,
U.S. Army Air Corps.
25 September 1918
1Lt. Eddie Rickenbacker is a legend unto himself. The most successful Allied fighter pilot of WW1.
America’s Ace of Aces, Rickenbacker is the most successful American Ace from WW1 with 134 combat missions and 26 Kills. He shot down 22 planes and four balloons.
He was also possibly the luckiest man alive. Not only did he Race in the Indy 500 a total of 4 times without injury. He also experienced over 100 documented brushes with death in combat, survived 2 plane crashes and during WW2 Rickenbacker survived 24 days stranded at sea in enemy waters.
Of Rickenbacker’s 4 Indy 500 starts, 1912, 1914, 1915 and 1916 he only finished all 200 laps once. In 1914, He drove his Duesenberg a blistering qualifying speed of 88.14 MPH securing him a 10th place finish and a $1400 purse ($36,000 in 2019 $s). He later set the world speed record of 134 mph at Daytona in 1914, but in spite of 2 more starts failed to finish either time and was never able to win Indianapolis.
Eddie Rickenbacker joined the Army as a mechanic and driver for Gen. John J. Pershing. His aptitude for all things mechanical was noticed and he was transferred to the fledgling U.S. Army Air Service.
After less than 3 weeks training “Rick” graduated as a 1st Lieutenant. Immediately assigned to 94th Aero Squadron, based at Gengoult Aerodome near Toul, France.
The 94th was equipped with Nieuport 28 aircraft and was the first American fighter squadron to draw blood in battle, when 1st Lt. Douglas Campbell and 2nd Lt. Alan Winslow brought down 2 enemy aircraft on April 14, 1918. They would tally many more kills with 1Lt Rickenbacker at the tip of the spear.
Rickenbacker wasn’t popular with the other aviators who were all from uppity wealty families and had Ivy League educations. Rickenbacker quit school at 12 years of age. The considered him a Bumpkin with the social graces of a resident of the primate section of the Chicago Zoo. They wouldn’t let him play in any pilot games. – So Rickenbacker made up his own… He developed combat flying techniques that were hitherto unheard of.
As his string of areal victories grew he earned the respect and admiration of the other pilots.
Rickenbacker has a unique way of Attacking the enemy, he would get much closer than was considered wise before he would fire, consequently his accuracy was greatly improved and he usually dispatched the enemy aircraft with the first burst.
the Machineguns of 1916 were notorious for jamming putting Eddie in several hair-raising situations when he couldn’t fire. He nursed his crippled bird home with most of one wing torn off barely making a safe landing.
Rickenbacker’s luck held, and he became an ace and was Promoted to Captain and given command of the 94th. In September 1918, he got jumped by two of Germany’s newest, fasted, most lethal fighters, the imposing Fokker D.VII’s. He attacked close-in and accurately destroying both enemy aircraft.
The next day, Rickenbacker earned him the Medal of Honor.
Capt. Rickenbacker took off on a voluntary patrol, he was not scheduled to fly any sorties that day. He came across a German squadron of seven planes, including five of the new Fokkers, and although he was alone and had no cover, he engaged them.
He dived on them, shooting down one Fokker and then one of the escorting Halberstadt fighters sending the remaining enemy running for home. No one had up to that point engaged anyone outnumbered 7 to 1 and alone. Rickenbacker became a legend.
Eddie Rickenbacker’s secret was simple: “The experienced fighting pilot does not take unnecessary risk. His business is to shoot down enemy planes, not get shot down.”
Capt. Rickenbacker left the military after the end of WW1 but continued to serve his nation and in 1942 Eddie was making a morale tour for the troops (the predecessor to the USO tours we all remember). The B-17 crashed in the ocean.
Everyone survived the crash and deployed rubber rafts before the plane disappeared into Davy Jones’ Locker. Even though he was a civilian Rickenbacker took charge, he divided rations and fish they caught among the eight survivors and it is reported that, when a seagull landed on his head, Eddie Rickenbacker killed it with his bare hands and shared the meat with his men.
It was Rickenbacker who made sure the men stayed hydrated and kept their moral up for the 24 days they were stranded at sea in enemy waters. One man died, but Eddie Rickenbacker got the rest of them through it.
His exploits, most wildly exaggerated by reporters – made headlines in the States. The people needed a Hero, Eddie Rickenbacker was that hero.
Rickenbacker’s MOH citation does not even come close to giving this warrior the credit he deserves:
RICKENBACKER, EDWARD V. (Air Mission)
Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 94th Aero Squadron, Air Service. Place and date: Near Billy, France, 25 September 1918.
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 7 enemy planes (5 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.