The Unknown Charles Lindbergh

By Kreiter, Ted | The Saturday Evening Post, September/October 2000 | Go to article overview
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The Unknown Charles Lindbergh

Kreiter, Ted, The Saturday Evening Post

Pulitzer Prize-winning author A. Scott Berg sheds greater light on one of America's most celebrated (and least understood) heroes.


by A. Scott Berg

628 pages, Berkeley Books, $16.00

His father was a U.S. Congressman. As a boy he amused himself by locking the toilet-room doors of the Capitol building from the inside and by dropping light bulbs from the top floor of the House Office Building onto the street below. A solitary person, he had no close friends at school, nor any girlfriend. He flunked out of college in Madison, Wisconsin, then turned to flying, barnstorming, and parachute jumping for a living. At age 25, on May 20, 1927, after months of preparation, he climbed into a singleengine plane with no brakes and took off for Paris 3,600 miles across the Atlantic.

A few days later, Charles A. Lindbergh had become the most celebrated man on earth-and was greatly embarrassed about it. When the orchestra at the Champs Elysees Theater struck up The Star Spangled Banner and everybody rose and cheered, the "poor kid was so embarrassed, he blushed scarlet," one woman observed. When French girls lunged through the crowds attempting to kiss the young aviator, he was "scared to death," the American ambassador noted, and when the Paris Aero-Club offered Lindbergh a gift of 150,000 francs (almost $6,000), he declined, asking that the money go instead to benefit families of French aviators who had laid down their lives.

These details and many more from A. Scott Berg's definitive biography, Lindbergh, bring us closer than ever before to understanding the 20th century's least-understood hero. With access to Lindbergh family diaries and records, Berg supplies heretofore unknown details that may help illuminate Lindbergh's actions and motives. How could the young man-referred to by Winston Chruchill as ". . . all that a man should say, all that a man should do, and all that a man should be"-within only 15 years become one of the most unpopular men in America, cast in the minds of millions as a defeatist and a Nazi sympathizer?

Part of the answer lies in Lindbergh's treatment by the press. His first rude awakening about the media came with the New York Times' account of his famous flight. He was "shocked and disappointed" to see that his description given to a journalist had been transformed into a first-person article that was "neither accurate nor in accord with my character and viewpoint."

The press coverage was only to get worse. And Lindbergh became a victim of it, as well as of his own sometimes intransigent convictions.

Lindbergh's visits to Nazi Germany before World War II (actually at the behest of the U.S. government) aroused suspicion, especially when Lindbergh failed to speak out against some of Germany's actions. Having a medal pinned on him by Nazi party leader Hermann Goring didn't help, either.

Soon Walter Winchell was twisting comments made by Joseph P. Kennedy to indicate that Lindbergh's report on the state of German aviation had been a final factor in Neville Chamberlain's disasterous appeasement policy at Munich.

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