Flightlines

This week in history

Reviewing history in the military, the Air Force and triumphs and misadventures in airpower.

One could say no man loved the seagull more than Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker … and for good reason.

Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker (Air Force photo)

Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker (Air Force photo)

The American WWI fighter ace and Medal of Honor recipient was a civilian supporting WWII aboard a B-17D Flying Fortress on Oct. 21, 1942. He was traveling to Hawaii for a base inspection tour when, en route to the refueling point on Canton Island, the aircraft’s faulty navigation forced Rickenbacker and the crew to ditch the aircraft due to fuel exhaustion. The crewmen ended up drifting in life rafts at sea.

Rickenbacker’s New York Times’ July 24, 1973 obituary recalls his leadership until the rescue:

“For the next 22 days, Mr. Rickenbacker, the only civilian in the group, gave the orders. He divided the four oranges that made up the initial food supply. When a seagull landed on his head, he captured the bird smoothly. Then, when fish were caught, he divided the catch. After eight days it rained and he took charge of the water distribution.”

Most radio broadcasts and newspaper articles reported that Rickenbacker was dead, but on Nov. 13, six of these seven survived to be rescued by a patrolling plane.

Rickenbacker was 52 at the time of the incident. He would live for 30 more years.

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