|1st Lieutenant Eddie Rickenbacker was one of the most effective American pilots in World War I. The former race car driver shot down 26 enemy planes during the war. He posed for this photograph beside his plane in 1918 near Rembercart, France.|
Rickenbacker's plane was not "downed" in the Pacific Ocean during World War 1. The incident, in fact, actually took place a number of years later, in 1942, while the former WW1 flying "ace" and Medal of Honor recipient was on a special Pacific tour assigned to him as a volunteer for the U. S. government. His findings ultimately went to the U.S. War Secretary and subsequently Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commander of the Pacific Rim during World War 2. The four-engine B-17 bomber in which he was a passenger, went off course and ran out of fuel causing it to crash into the ocean where the crew and Rickenbacker were afloat for an agonizing 24 days before being miraculously rescued.
After his military service, Rickenbacker went on to be a race car driver, an aviation consultant of note and a respected Eastern Air Lines executive.
By means of follow up and elaboration, my dad's reference to the plane crash and the unexpected role played by a seagull in Rickenbacker's ocean rescue, was reinforced by popular minister and inspirational author Max Lucado in his book titled "In they Eye of the Storm," published six years ago. Here is an extremely interesting and touching excerpt from the book.
"Ed walks out to the end of the pier, where it seems he almost has the world to himself. The glow of the sun is a golden bronze now. Every body's gone, except for a few joggers on he beach. Standing out on the end of the pier, Ed is alone with his thoughts...and his bucket of shrimp. In a few short minutes the bucket is empty. But Ed doesn't leave. He stands there lost in thought, as though transported to another time and place. Invariably, one of the gulls land s on his sea-bleached, weather-beaten hat -- an old military hat he's been wearing for years.
"When he finally turns around and begins to walk back toward the beach, a few of the birds hop along the pier with him until he gets to the stairs, and then they, too, fly away. Old Ed quietly makes his way down to the end of the beach and on home.
"If you were sitting there on the pier with your fishing line in the water, Ed might seem like a funny old duck, as my dad used to say; or a guy that is a sandwich shy of a picnic, as my kids used to say. To onlookers, he's just another old codger, lost in his own weird world, feeding the seagulls with a bucket of shrimp. Most would probably write Old Ed off, down there in Florida.
"That's too bad. They'd do well to know him better, His full name was Eddie Rickenbacker He was a famous hero back in World War 1. On one of his (volunteer) flying missions (1942) he and the plane's seven-member crew went down. Miraculously, all of the men survived, crawled out of their plane, and climbed into a raft. Captain Rickenbacker and the crew floated for days on the rough waters of the Pacific. They fought the sun. They fought sharks. Most of all they fought hunger.
"By the eighth day their rations ran out. No food. No water. They were hundreds of miles from land and no one knew where they were. They needed a miracle. That afternoon they had a simple devotional service and prayed for that miracle. Then they tried to nap. Eddie leaned back and pulled his military cap over his nose. All he could hear was the slap of the waves against the raft
"Suddenly, Eddie felt something land on the top of his cap. It was a seagull.
"Old Ed would later describe how he sat perfectly still, planning his next move. With a flash of his hand and a squawk from the gull, he managed to grab it and wring its neck. He tore the feathers off, and he and his starving crew made a meal of it -- a very slight meal for eight men. Then they used the intestines for bait. With it, they caught fish, which gave them food and more bait -- and the cycle continued. With that simple survival technique, they were able to endure the rigors of the ocean until they were found and rescued.
"Eddie Rickenbacker lived many years beyond that ordeal, but he never forgot the sacrifice of that lifesaving seagull. And he never stopped saying 'thank you.' That's why almost every Friday night he would walk out to the end of the pier with a bucket of shrimp, and feed the seagulls with a heart full of gratitude...
|Museum display of Old Eddie's belongings|
collected after his ocean rescue. Note the
military cap that served as a landing pad
for a seagull.
"Never underestimate the power of prayer!"
My dad would have enjoyed George Konig's book and his reference to the seagull story. I am sure, also, that he would applaud my follow up to his "Bread of Life" column in the Chatham Daily News 63 years ago (see below).
The message lives on!
The message lives on!
Edward Vernon Rickenbacker died in 1973, thirty years after his miraculous ocean rescue.