Edward V. Rickenbacker
Pilot Eddie Rickenbacker from Columbus, Ohio standing next to a plane he flew during World War I in France, ca. 1914-1918.
Edward Vernon “Eddie” Rickenbacker was born in Columbus, Ohio, on October 8, 1890. His parents were Swiss immigrants to the United States. As a young man, he was involved in racing automobiles. When the United States joined World War I in 1917, Rickenbacker volunteered for the military. He became the staff driver for the head of the American forces in France, General John Pershing.
In March 1918, Rickenbacker transferred to the United States Air Service and became a member of the 94th Aero Pursuit Squadron. Ultimately, Rickenbacker was appointed the head of the squadron. The pilot became famous for his exploits as a member of the 94th Aero Squadron. Rickenbacker earned the nickname “Ace of Aces” because he shot down twenty-two airplanes and four balloons during the war. Rickenbacker earned numerous awards for heroism during World War I, including the Distinguished Service Cross, the Congressional Medal of Honor, and the French Croix de Guerre. After the war ended, Rickenbacker published his memoirs of his experiences, which he titled Fighting the Flying Circus (1919).
After World War I, Rickenbacker left the military and became involved once again in the automobile industry. He worked for General Motors for a time and purchased the Indianapolis Speedway. Eventually, Rickenbacker became president of Eastern Airlines. His leadership, as well as his fame, helped to make Eastern Airlines one of the most successful commercial airlines in the mid-twentieth century.
During World War II, Rickenbacker was on a B-17 bomber mission to New Guinea that crashed in the Pacific Ocean. Miraculously, Rickenbacker and six others managed to survive in the ocean on rafts for twenty-four days before being rescued. Once the war ended, Rickenbacker continued to pursue his business interests.
Rickenbacker died in Zurich, Switzerland, on July 27, 1973. He is interred in Greenlawn Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio. In 1995, the United States Postal Service honored Rickenbacker by issuing a stamp with his image.