America's Heroes: Medal of Honor Recipients from the Civil War to Afghanistan

By James H. Willbanks | Go to book overview

Rickenbacker, Edward V.

Born: October 8, 1890

Died: July 23, 1973

Home State: Ohio

Service: Army

Conflict: World War I

Age at Time of Award: 27

Edward Vernon Rickenbacker was born on October 8, 1890, in Columbus, Ohio, where he received little formal education. In 1905, he worked as a laborer in a railroad car firm but quickly developed an interest in gasoline engines and cars. At the age of 16, Rickenbacker began professional racing, and, commencing in 1911, he regularly drove at the Indianapolis 500. By 1917, he was America’s most famous daredevil racer and established a land speed record of 134 miles per hour at Daytona Beach, Florida. That May, Rickenbacker tried enlisting in the Army but was turned down for want of education. Nonetheless, he persisted and was eventually allowed to join as a driver on the staffof Gen. John J. Pershing.

Despite his prestigious staff position, Rickenbacker wanted a combat assignment. While in France, he met and was befriended by Col. Billy Mitchell, who arranged a transfer to the Air Service for him. Rickenbacker underwent flight training at the Aviation Training School at Tours, gaining his wings in October 1917. His first assignment came as engineering officer with the 3rd Aviation Instruction Center at Issoudun under Maj. Carl A. Spaatz. Rickenbacker pressed Spaatz for a fighter assignment, and, in March 1918, he was posted with the 94th Aero Pursuit Squadron as a captain.

This outfit, known through its famed “Hat-in-the-Ring” insignia, was the first American squadron to see combat. Rickenbacker accompanied unit commander Maj. Raoul Lufb ery on several dangerous forays over enemy lines and scored his first kill on April 25, 1918. The Americans were then flying cast-off Nieuport 28s donated by the French. These were maneuverable fighters but had a tendency to shed their upper wing while diving and had to be flown carefully. Nevertheless, when pitted against the “flying circus” of Baron Manfred von Richthofen, Rickenbacker scored several kills and became an ace on May 30, 1918.

Following Lufb ery’s death that same month, Rickenbacker succeeded him as commander of the 94th with the rank of major. A natural flier, he continued racking up victories through late spring until a severe ear infection grounded him for several months. Rickenbacker resumed flying in September, only this time in fast and rugged SPAD XIIIs, which had replaced the rickety Nieuports. He immediately added to his tally of kills, and, on September 25, 1918, for single-handedly attacking seven German aircraft and shooting down two, Rickenbacker received the Medal of Honor. He also acquired eight Distinguished Flying Crosses, the French Legion of Honor, and two Croix de Guerres. By war’s end in November 1918, Rickenbacker’s score stood at 26, making him the highest-ranking American ace of the war. His 94th Aero Squadron also claimed 69 victories, another record.

Rickenbacker returned to the United States in 1919 as a war hero. He then began his own automobile firm in Detroit, the Rickenbacker Motor Company, which pioneered such innovative technology as four-wheel brakes. When the company was dissolved in 1926, Rickenbacker bought controlling interest in the Indianapolis Speedway before beginning a new career as an engineer at General Motors Corporation (GM). In 1935, he was appointed general manager of a failing GM subsidiary, Eastern Airlines, which he turned around and made profitable in short order.

Within three years, Rickenbacker was president and director of Eastern. During World War II, his aviation knowledge and technical expertise led to his appoint ment as special representative of Henry L. Stimson, the secretary of war. He was dispatched to the Pacific on an inspection tour of fighter bases, but, in October 1942, his B-17 bomber ditched 600 miles north of Samoa. Rickenbacker and seven survivors then drift ed for three weeks, subsisting on fish and rainwater before being rescued. After two weeks in a hospital, he boarded another plane and completed his assignment.

After the war, Edward Rickenbacker resumed his corporate activities wiTheastern Airlines, rising to chairman of the board in 1954, and oversaw a period of tremendous growth. He retired in 1963 and, two years later, was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, Ohio. Rickenbacker died in Zurich, Switzerland, on July 23, 1973, the seventh-ranking American ace of all time.

John C. Fredriksen


Further Reading

Adamson, Hans Christian. Eddie Rickenbacker. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1946.

Farr, Finis. Rickenbacker’s Luck—An American Life. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1979.

Lewis, W. David. Eddie Rickenbacker: An American Hero in the 20th Century. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.

Rickenbacker, Capt. Edward V. Seven Came Th rough. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran, 1943.

Rickenbacker, Edward V. Rickenbacker: An Autobiography. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: PrenticeHall, 1967.

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America's Heroes: Medal of Honor Recipients from the Civil War to Afghanistan
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • List of Entries ix
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • Preface xv
  • Introduction xvii
  • Adams, Lucian 1
  • Baca, John P. 2
  • Bacon, Nicky Daniel 4
  • Baker, Vernon 6
  • Baldwin, Frank D. 8
  • Ballard, Donald E. 11
  • Barfoot, Van T. 13
  • Barnum, Harvey C., Jr 14
  • Barrett, Carlton W. 16
  • Basilone, John 18
  • Benavidez, Roy P. 20
  • Birkhimer, William E. 22
  • Blake, Robert 24
  • Bleak, David B. 25
  • Boyington, Gregory 27
  • Brady, Patrick Henry 29
  • Britt, Maurice L. 30
  • Brown, Bobbie E. 32
  • Bucha, Paul William 34
  • Burke, Lloyd L. 36
  • Bush, Robert Eugene 38
  • Butler, Smedley Darlington 40
  • Butterfield, Daniel 42
  • Cafferata, Hector a., Jr 43
  • Carney, William H. 45
  • Cavaiani, Jon R. 48
  • Chamberlain, Joshua L. 49
  • Childers, Ernest 51
  • Cody, William F. 53
  • Cohn, Abraham 55
  • Cole, Robert G. 57
  • Craft, Clarence B. 59
  • Crandall, Bruce P. 61
  • Custer, Thomas W. 63
  • Dahlgren, John Olof 65
  • Daly, Daniel Joseph 67
  • Davila, Rudolph B. 69
  • Davis, Charles W. 70
  • Davis, Raymond G. 73
  • Davis, Sammy L. 74
  • Day, George E. 76
  • Dean, William F. 78
  • Deblanc, Jefferson Joseph 79
  • Dix, Drew Dennis 81
  • Donlon, Roger Hugh C. 84
  • Donovan, William Joseph 85
  • Doolittle, James H. 87
  • Doss, Desmond T. 88
  • Dunham, Jason L. 90
  • Dunham, Russell E. 91
  • Dyess, Aquilla James 93
  • Ehlers, Walter D. 96
  • Evans, Ernest Edwin 98
  • Faith, Don C., Jr 100
  • Finn, John William 102
  • Fletcher, Frank Jack 104
  • Fluckey, Eugene Bennett 105
  • Foley, Robert F. 107
  • Foss, Joseph Jacob 109
  • Fox, John Robert 112
  • Freeman, Ed W. 113
  • Funston, Frederick 115
  • Galer, Robert Edward 117
  • García, Macario 119
  • Gonsalves, Harold 121
  • Gonzalez, Alfredo 123
  • Gordon, Gary I. 125
  • Hagemeister, Charles Chris 126
  • Harmon, Roy W. 128
  • Harrell, William George 130
  • Hatch, John P. 131
  • Hayashi, Shizuya 133
  • Hayes, Webb C. 134
  • Heard, John W. 137
  • Hendrix, James R. 139
  • Hernández, Rodolfo P. 140
  • Herrera, Silvestre S. 142
  • Hooper, Joe R. 144
  • Howard, Oliver O. 146
  • Howard, Robert L. 148
  • Inouye, Daniel K. 150
  • Irwin, Bernard J. D. 154
  • Izac, Edouard Victor Michel 155
  • Jackson, Joe M. 158
  • Jacobs, Jack H. 160
  • Joel, Lawrence 162
  • Kaufman, Benjamin 164
  • Keeble, Woodrow W. 166
  • Kelly, Charles E. 167
  • Kerrey, Joseph R. 169
  • Kisters, Gerry H. 171
  • Kouma, Ernest R. 173
  • Lang, George C. 175
  • Lemon, Peter C. 177
  • Levitow, John L. 178
  • Liteky, Angelo J. 181
  • Livingston, James E. 182
  • Lopez, Jose M. 184
  • Lucas, Jacklyn Harold 186
  • Luke, Frank, Jr 189
  • Mabry, George L., Jr 191
  • Macarthur, Arthur, Jr 193
  • Macarthur, Douglas 195
  • Mackie, John F. 198
  • Mallon, George H. 200
  • Marm, Walter Joseph, Jr 201
  • Martinez, Joe P. 203
  • McCool, Richard Miles, Jr 204
  • McGinnis, Ross A. 206
  • McGinty, John J., III 207
  • McKinney, John R. 209
  • Merli, Gino J. 211
  • Miles, L. Wardlaw 213
  • Miles, Nelson A. 214
  • Millett, Lewis L. 218
  • Miyamura, Hiroshi H. 220
  • Mize, Ola L. 223
  • Moffett, William A. 225
  • Monsoor, Michael A. 226
  • Monti, Jared C. 227
  • Munemori, Sadao S. 229
  • Munro, Douglas Albert 231
  • Murphy, Audie L. 233
  • Murphy, Michael P. 235
  • Murphy, Raymond G. 236
  • Norris, Thomas R. 238
  • Novosel, Michael J. 240
  • O’Hare, Edward Henry 243
  • O’Kane, Richard Hetherington 245
  • Okubo, James K. 246
  • Olive, Milton L., III 248
  • O’Neill, Richard W. 249
  • Page, John U. D. 251
  • Paige, Mitchell 254
  • Parker, Samuel I. 256
  • Pennypacker, Galusha 258
  • Penry, Richard A. 260
  • Pitsenbarger, William H. 262
  • Pittman, John A. 264
  • Pittman, Richard A. 265
  • Pope, Everett Parker 267
  • Pope, Thomas A. 269
  • Rascon, Alfred V. 271
  • Ray, Ronald Eric 273
  • Red Cloud, Mitchell, Jr 275
  • Rickenbacker, Edward V. 278
  • Roberts, Gordon R. 279
  • Rocco, Louis R. 281
  • Rodriguez, Joseph C. 283
  • Roosevelt, Theodore 285
  • Rosser, Ronald E. 287
  • Rubin, Tibor 289
  • Rudolph, Donald E. 291
  • Ruiz, Alejandro R. Renteria 293
  • Sakato, George T. 294
  • Salomon, Ben L. 296
  • Sandlin, Willie 298
  • Sasser, Clarence Eugene 300
  • Schofield, John M. 302
  • Shafter, William R. 303
  • Shoup, David Monroe 305
  • Shughart, Randall D. 307
  • Sickles, Daniel E. 310
  • Sijan, Lance P. 312
  • Simanek, Robert E. 313
  • Sitter, Carl L. 315
  • Smith, Andrew Jackson 317
  • Smith, Paul R. 319
  • Spurrier, Junior J. 320
  • Stockdale, James B. 322
  • Stone, James L. 324
  • Stowers, Freddie 326
  • Thornton, Michael Edwin 327
  • Thorsness, Leo K. 329
  • Titus, Calvin Pearl 332
  • Turner, George B. 333
  • Urban, Matt 335
  • Vandegrift, Alexander Archer 337
  • Vargas, Jay R. 339
  • Versace, Humbert R. 341
  • Wahlen, George Edward 343
  • Wai, Francis B. 345
  • Wainwright, Jonathan M. 347
  • Walker, Dr. Mary E. 349
  • Ware, Keith L. 350
  • Warren, Francis E. 352
  • Watson, George 353
  • Watters, Charles Joseph 354
  • Webb, Alexander S. 358
  • Wetzel, Gary George 360
  • Whiteley, Eli 362
  • Whittington, Hulon B. 363
  • Williams, Hershel Woodrow 365
  • Wilson, Louis Hugh, Jr. 367
  • Wood, Leonard 369
  • Woodfill, Samuel 372
  • York, Alvin C. 373
  • Young, Rodger W. 375
  • Zabitosky, Fred William 377
  • Zeamer, Jay, Jr. 379
  • Recipients of the Medal of Honor 381
  • Double Award Recipients 487
  • Medals of Honor Awarded by Conflict and Service 489
  • Bibliography 493
  • Index 511
  • About the Editor 529
  • Contributors 531
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