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American Ace Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, commander of America's 94th Aero Squadron shot down two German planes on September 23rd 1918. He downed a Fokker and a Halberstadt. Rickenbacker flew a French Spad-13.
He was born Edward Richenbacher (without a middle name) in Columbus, Ohio. His parents were German-speaking Swiss immigrants. Since childhood he loved machines and experimented with them. He was encouraged by his father's words: "A machine has to have a purpose".
Rickenbacker nearly died many times. He had an early run-in with a horse-drawn carriage, a botched tonsillectomy and multiple airplane crashes. His first near death experience occurred when he was in the "Horsehead Gang". He lived near a mine and they decided to ride a cart down the slope. It tipped over and almost crushed them.
He stopped going to school in grade seven after the accidental death of his father on August 26, 1904.  Rickenbacker found jobs to help support the family. Driven by an intense admiration for machines he taught himself as much as he could. This included enrolling in a correspondence course in engineering. He aggressively pursued any chance of involvement with automobiles. Rickenbacker went to work at the Columbus Buggy Company. He eventually becoming a salesman.
Rickenbacker became well known as a race car driver. He competed in the Indianapolis 500 four times before World War I. He earned the nickname "Fast Eddie".  He joined the Maxwell Race Team in 1915 after leaving Peugeot. After the Maxwell team disbanded that same year, he joined the Prest-O-Lite team as manager and continued to race improved Maxwells for Prest-O-Lite. 
He was in the United States Army in 1917 when Congress declared war. Soon he was in France where he became a pilot.
9 – Joseph J. Foss
Foss, with 26 confirmed kills, ranks number nine on the list of U.S. fighter aces of World War II, but he holds the honor of being the Marine’s number one ace of the war. Foss worked harder than most to become a pilot, helping run the family farm after his father died, working side jobs to get through high school, college, and flight training, and having to fight the Navy and Marines’ age restriction to becoming a fighter pilot at the age of 26.
Foss, serving with the VMF-121 Marine fighter squadron, led eight Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters, which became known as Foss’s Flying Circus. His squadron was crucial to the U.S. victory over Japan at Guadalcanal, where his actions earned him the Medal of Honor. He later became governor of South Dakota.
There was no time to arm their F-16 fighter jets
An illustration painted by Gil Cohen of an F-16 fighter jet, the same aircraft flown by Heather Penney, on September 11, 2001, flying over the burning Pentagon in Washington, D.C..
As confusion enveloped the briefing room, Penney&aposs commanding officer, Colonel Marc "Sass" Sasseville, locked his eyes to hers and said, “Lucky, you’re coming with me.” They scrambled to the pre-flight area and donned their flight suits. There was no time to arm their F-16 fighter jets, so they would be flying this mission virtually unarmed, packing only their undaunted courage.
But what was the mission? Where were they to go? What were they looking for? There were no clear orders as to what to do. Somewhere in the confusion as the pilots got into their flight suits and ran to their planes, the Pentagon was hit by hijacked American Airlines Flight 77. Reports circulated that a fourth plane, United Flight 93 out of Newark, New Jersey, was out there. Air command speculated it was also headed to D.C. for another strike on the Pentagon, or a strike on the White House or the Capitol building.
Normally, preflight preparation for F-16 fighter jets takes a half-hour, allowing pilots to methodically work through a checklist. Being a rookie, Penney’s only combat experience was in training. As they ran out to their planes, she started going through the checklist. Sasseville stopped her and barked, “Lucky, what are you doing? Get your butt up there and let’s go!” She quickly climbed into her cockpit. As she powered up the engines, she shouted to the ground crew to pull the chock blocks holding the wheels.
Receiving the go-ahead from flight control, both jets’ afterburners belched out thousands of pounds of thrust as they took off and headed northwest, the last known location of the fourth plane. Word came to them that they had shoot-to-kill orders. Knowing that they had taken off with unarmed aircraft, that could mean only one thing. They would be flying a kamikaze mission, ramming into Flight 93, a Boeing 757 aircraft, nearly 7 times the weight of their F-16 fighter jets. They had agreed upon the plan of attack. Sasseville would head for the 757’s cockpit and Penney would aim for the plane&aposs tail. As they sped out beyond Andrews Air Force Base, flying low at about 3,000 feet, they could see black, billowing smoke streaming from the Pentagon.
Rickenbacker Shoots Down Two Planes - History
Eddie Rickenbacker, a leading fighter ace in World War I and retired chairman of Eastern Air Lines, died early yesterday in a Zurich hospital.
He was 82 years old. His health had been failing since he suffered a stroke in Miami last October, but had improved enough to permit the trip to Switzerland. He was admitted to Neumuenster Hospital with a heart ailment on July 15, four days after his arrival.
His wife said the body would be cremated privately and the ashes flown to his birthplace, Columbus, Ohio, for burial.
Edward Vernon Rickenbacker was a man whose delight in turning the tables on seemingly hopeless odds took him to the top in three distinct fields.
In the daredevil pre-World War I days of automobile racing he became one of this country&aposs leading drivers, although he had a profound dislike for taking unnecessary risks. He had entered the auto industry as a trainee mechanic and made his first mark servicing the cranky machines of that day.
In World War I he became the nation&aposs "Ace of Aces" as a military aviator despite the fact that he had joined the Army as a sergeant-driver on Gen. John J. Pershing&aposs staff.
He was named by Gen. William Mitchell to be chief engineering officer of the fledgling Army Air Corps. His transfer to actual combat flying--in which he shot down 22 German planes and four observation balloons--was complicated not only by his being two years over the pilot age limit of 25, but also because he was neither a college man nor a "gentleman" such as then made up the aristocratic fighter squadrons of the air service.
In the highly competitive airline business, Mr. Rickenbacker was the first man to prove that airlines could be made profitable, and then the first to prove that they could be run without a Government subsidy and kept profitable. This, despite a previous venture in the automobile manufacturing business that fell victim to the competition of bigger companies and failed.
While his successes came in fields that were developed in the 20th century, his philosophy seemed to many a carryover from the 19th century.
Opposed to Interference
Mr. Rickenbacker, or Captain Eddie as he preferred to be known (he was a colonel in the reserve but insisted that the title of captain was the only one he had earned), was an individualist of the old empire-building school. In any kind of fight he neither asked for nor gave quarter. His opposition to Government "interference" was widely known, as were his outspoken objections to subsidies for industries or individuals. He was also an intransigent foe of trade unionism and liberal democratic concepts.
Mr. Rickenbacker was fond of saying that the greatest privilege this country had to offer was the "freedom to go broke," and that "a chance" was the only "favor" needed to succeed in the United States.
In recent years, he had identified himself more and more closely with ultra-conservative and right-wing causes. In 1963, when he retired as board chairman of Eastern Air Lines he announced that he would devote himself to "awakening the American public to the grave problems facing them."
In frequent speeches during the years that followed, Mr. Rickenbacker predicted that the American people someday would erect a monument to the memory of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, and he urged United States withdrawal from the United Nations, the severance of diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union and repeal of the 16th Amendment, which authorized a personal income tax.
"I am going to expand my crusade to save the American way of life for future generations," he wrote in his letter of resignation from Eastern Air Lines, "as I want our children, our grandchildren, and those who follow them to enjoy the American opportunities which have been mine for 73 years."
A self-made man whose formal education ended with the sixth grade, Mr. Rickenbacker was a driving leader. He put the stamp of his dominant personality on everything he touched. His relations with his employes were on a personal basis that was heavily larded with paternalism. He frequently referred to his employes as "the boys and girls," but he devoted much of his time to pushing, prodding and cajoling them into making the same efforts to rise that he had made.
But in the long run it will not be his material successes that will be remembered. Rather, he will be recalled as a larger-than-life figure cast in the same mold as legendary folk heroes of the past.
Part of this heroism was in the military field. When he was given command of a fighter squadron on Sept. 24, 1918, he wrote in his diary:
"Just been promoted to command of 94th Squadron. I shall never ask any pilot to go on a mission that I won&apost go on. I must work now harder than I did before."
He did not delay suiting action to the words. The next day, while leading a patrol before breakfast, he spotted a flight of five German Fokker pursuit planes escorting two observation craft near Billy, France. He slammed his Spad fighter into a power dive, coming down out of the sun onto the unsuspecting enemy. Closing fast, he fired a long burst and saw one of the Fokkers fall away and crash.
Taking advantage of the momentary confusion of the German fighter pilots, he plunged through their formation and went after the two-seater observation planes, which were then streaking back toward enemy territory. He made several unsuccessful passes at the heavier craft while their rear gunners were firing at him and the entire dogfight moved behind the German lines.
When he saw that the Fokkers had regrouped and were closing fast at higher altitude, he decided to make one final try. Sideslipping his Spad between the two observation planes, which were flying about 50 feet apart, he sent one down in flames before streaking for home.
This double-header, as he called it, earned him the Medal of Honor, but at the time Mr. Rickenbacker had other things on his mind. "I was glad it had come this morning [MISSING TEXT] effect it would have on the other pilots," he said.
His determination to set a good example did not end with the twin killing. He went on to achieve 18 of his 26 victories between taking command of the Squadron and the end of the war--a matter of 48 days in all. Much of his combat was against the "flying circus" of Baron Manfred von Richtofen, the "Red Baron."
For 41 years, Mr. Rickenbacker was officially credited with shooting down 21 planes and four balloons, although he maintained he had downed 22 planes and four balloons. In 1960, the Air Force approved his request for correction of the official record and granted him his 26th kill.
While Mr. Rickenbacker&aposs wartime exploits may have been the result of what he described as "planned recklessness" and "taking all the breaks," he was later to exhibit courage of a steelier kind.
On a foggy night in February, 1941, one of his own Eastern Air Lines planes, on which he was a passenger, crashed into a hill as it approached Atlanta. Although he was pinned to the body of a dead steward by the wreckage and had a shattered pelvic bone, half a dozen broken ribs, a broken leg and one eyelid torn away, he remained conscious for nine hours until he was taken to a hospital.
During that time he took command of the plane. He reassured survivors, sent some of the walking injured for help and shouted warnings against lighting matches in the gasoline- filled cabin.
Sixteen months later, fully recovered except for a limp, he was to have a still greater test of his courage.
That came when a B-17, on which he was making an inspection tour of World War II bases in the Pacific, had to make a crash landing in the ocean, 12 hours out from Honolulu. In minutes the plane sank and its eight passengers and crewman took to rubber rafts.
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.
Cursing one man who prayed for death, dragging back another who tried to drown himself to make more room for the others, the grim, indomitable figure taunted his comrades to stay alive. Hating him every minute, six of these seven survived to be rescued by a patrolling plane that found them almost by chance. Most of them came to believe that they owed their lives to Mr. Rickenbacker&aposs iron will.
As for the commander of the rafts he continued his trip after two weeks of rest. He was then 52 years old.
Mr. Rickenbacker was born of a German-Swiss father and a French-Swiss mother in Columbus, Ohio, on Oct. 8, 1890. His name originally was Edward Reichenbacher, but he modified the spelling of the family name during World War I to make it less Germanic, and added the middle name Vernon for a touch of "class."
His father, a construction contractor of moderate circumstances, died when Mr. Rickenbacker was 12. The boy, who was the third of eight children, quit school and went to work. After a series of jobs, he entered the automobile industry as an unpaid porter in the Frayer-Miller Company in Columbus.
Took Engineering Course
He received a job for wages when Lee Frayer, head of the company, learned that his voluntary helper had taken a correspondence course in mechanical engineering. When Mr. Frayer moved a short time later to the Columbus Buggy Company, just beginning the manufacture of automobiles, Mr. Rickenbacker was taken along.
The young man, then 16 and a crack mechanic, developed a local reputation as a driver-- although he never held a driver&aposs license nor did he ever [MISSING TEXT] Frayer, who advertised his cars by racing them, gave his aide his next chance by making him a combination racing driver-salesman. For the next six years he traveled all over the country, racing cars one day and selling them the next.
In 1912, when he was 22, Mr. Rickenbacker dropped the dual role and devoted his full time to racing. It was a hard, dangerous life, but he had less than his share of accidents and walked away from those he had.
He said of this phase of his life that it taught him to "scheme."
"You didn&apost win races because you had more guts. You won because you knew how to take the turns and baby your engine. It wasn&apost all just shut your eyes and grit your teeth."
The "scheming" paid off. Mr. Rickenbacker set a world record of 134 miles an hour in a Blitzen-Benz at Daytona Beach, Fla., and in 1916, the last full year of his active racing career, he earned $80,000.
He was in England in 1917, buying motors for a racing team, when the United States entered the war. He hurried home and tried to interest the War Department in organizing an air squadron of former racing drivers. Failing this, he enlisted on May 27, 1917, as a sergeant in the Signal Corps and sailed for France as General Pershing&aposs chauffeur.
Transferred to the Air Corps shortly afterward, he was made a first lieutenant on Aug. 20 and put in charge of engineering of the American air training center at Issoudon.
Attended Gunnery School
Transferred again at his own request, he attended gunnery school and then was assigned to French units for flight training.
His assignment to the 94th Squadron was not pleasing to the other airmen of the unit. They resented his civilian fame and his undeniable cockiness about it. In addition, he was regarded as uncouth, domineering and profane. To top it off, he insisted on checking his plane engine before every flight and personally supervised the loading of machine- gun bullets in his ammunition belts, instead of relying on the fortunes of war as gallantry dictated.
The first Rickenbacker victory came on April 29, 1918, while on a patrol with the squadron commander, the late Capt. James Norman Hall, who later wrote "Mutiny on the Bounty" with Charles Nordhoff. He dived his Nieuport to within 150 yards of a German Albatross before opening fire.
His squadron mates, whose earlier iciness slowly changed to respect and then fondness, have said that he was never a fancy flier, but always a ferocious fighter. And when Captain Hall was shot down and captured by the Germans, Captain Rickenbacker, who by then was an ace with seven confirmed kills, was promoted to command the 94th.
After the war, he went on a lecture tour, but turned down an offer to appear in a movie. Instead, in 1922, he accepted the proposal of a group of financiers to lend his name and talents to the manufacture of an automobile.
The Rickenbacker Motor Company, which produced the first car with four-wheel brakes in this country, failed in 1927, leaving Mr. Rickenbacker $200,000 in debt and with no job.
He said subsequently, the business had failed because he had forgotten the importance of proper timing in making his moves. "We were just too early with four-wheel brakes," he said of the equipment that is now standard on all American cars. He kept as prized souvenirs the advertisements of rival concerns of the time that scored the four-wheel brakes as un-[MISSING TEXT].
He resolved to pay off the big debt, and then raised $700,000 more. With this he bought the Indianapolis Speedway, which he ran until 1945, when he sold out to devote his full time to aviation.
In 1928 Mr. Rickenbacker became a $12,000-a-year assistant sales manager of the Cadillac division of the General Motors Corporation. He then was transferred to the big company&aposs various aviation divisions.
In 1934 he was sent as a trouble-shooter to salvage what he could of General Motors&apos Eastern Air Transport Division, which then owned Eastern Air Lines jointly with North American Aviation.
The companies had sunk about $6-million into Eastern, but while the line had little competition on its choice New York-Miami routes, it was called the ugly duckling of an industry not then notable for successes. Mr. Rickenbacker&aposs job was to shore up the failing line so the owners could sell it for their $1-million asking price.
In its first year under his management, Eastern turned in a net gain of $350,000--the first profit in the history of the airline industry. The second year he doubled the profits. By the third year, when the Government ordered G. M. to sell its airlines or get out of aircraft manufacturing, a banking syndicate offered more than $3-million for Eastern.
Mr. Rickenbacker pleaded with his employers for an equal chance to "save the airline for the boys and girls who helped build it." He received 60 days to raise the money and was told the company would be his for $3.5-million. The night before the option expired he got his final commitment, and the next day, March 2, 1938, he owned Eastern Air Lines.
Mr. Rickenbacker ran his company in much the same manner he had commanded the 94th Squadron in World War I. He set impossible goals, and then went out and achieved them himself before complaints got out of hand. He also applied other early lessons to the airlines. He was never the first to buy a new plane. Only when other companies had tested a new type and proved it satisfactory did he place his order.
He had homes in New York and Key Biscayne, Fla.
Under Mr. Rickenbacker&aposs dominance, Eastern was considered an efficient and profitable airline, but somewhat austere compared with many of its competitors. In the eyes of many travelers, its lack of emphasis on in-flight service and other frills gave it a spartan image.
Nevertheless, the airline prospered. For 25 years under Mr. Rickenbacker&aposs guidance-- from 1935 to 1960--it earned a profit every year. Then, along with many other lines that were jolted by the financial headwinds accompanying the introduction of jet airliners, it experienced losses during the early sixties.
In 1959, Mr. Rickenbacker resigned as president of Eastern, and four years later, on Dec. 31, 1963, he retired as director and chairman of the board.
5. Werner Voss
The Red Baron is remembered as Germany’s king of the skies during World War I, but Werner Voss may have been his closest competitor. Voss entered the war in 1914 at the age of 17, and served as a cavalryman before transferring to the air service and being placed in the same squadron as the Baron. He quickly won fame for his acrobatic flying style and deadly accuracy in combat, eventually amassing a total of 48 aerial victories and winning the “Pour le Merite,” Germany’s highest military honor during World War I. The young airman had a flair for the dramatic, and routinely landed next to his downed adversaries’ planes to claim a souvenir from the wreckage. When his defeated enemies were captured alive, Voss would sometimes pay them a visit to drop off some cigars or even an autographed photo of himself.
Voss is most famous for his final flight on September 23, 1917. In what is often called the greatest dogfight of the war, he singlehandedly engaged seven British pilots𠅊ll of them experienced aces—over Belgium. Though severely outnumbered, Voss spent a full ten minutes flying circles around his opponents and dancing between machine gun tracers, eventually forcing three of the British planes out of the fight before finally being shot down and killed. James McCudden, one of the British pilots, would later describe the 20-year-old Voss as “the bravest German airman whom it has been my privilege to see fight.”
Captain Eddie Rickenbacker: America’s World War I Ace of Aces
Edward V. Rickenbacker stands next to his Nieuport 28 in a field near Toul, France.
He was called America’s Ace of Aces during World War I, the highest scorer of American aerial victories over the Germans. He could just as easily have been labeled the ‘luckiest man alive,’ however, since he survived — by his own count — 135 brushes with death during his exciting lifetime.
Edward Vernon Rickenbacker was born in Columbus, Ohio, on October 8, 1890. The son of Swiss immigrants, he was the third of eight children. His parents christened him Edward Rickenbacher, but he later added Vernon as a middle name ‘because it sounded classy’ and changed the spelling of his last name to Rickenbacker so it would be less Germanic. He answered mostly to ‘Rick’ but would be best known during later years as ‘Captain Eddie.’ His father was a day laborer, and life was not easy for a lad who spoke with an accent that reflected his parents’ household language.
Young Rickenbacker was admittedly a bad boy who smoked at age 5 and headed a group of mischievous youngsters known as the Horsehead Gang, but he was imbued with family values by frequent applications of a switch to his posterior by his strict father. One of his father’s axioms that he followed all his life was never to procrastinate.
At age 8, he had his first brush with death when he led his gang down a slide in a steel cart into a deep gravel pit. The cart flipped over on him and laid his leg open to the bone. He quit school at 12 when his father died in a construction accident, and he became the major family breadwinner for his mother and four younger siblings. He said in his memoirs, ‘That day I turned from a harum-scarum youngster into a young man serious beyond my age.’ He sold newspapers, peddled eggs and goat’s milk, then worked in a glassmaking factory. Seeking more income, he worked successively in a foundry, a brewery, a shoe factory and a monument works, where he carved and polished his father’s tombstone.
Engines became young Rickenbacker’s passion, and he found a job that changed his life in 1906 when he went to work for Lee Frayer, a race car driver and head of the Frayer-Miller Automobile Co. Frayer liked the scrawny, scrappy lad and let him ride in major races as his mechanic.
Rickenbacker drove this Mason racer in the American Grand Prize AAA race held on the Santa Monica Road Race Course in February of 1914. He came in eighth place after the crankshaft broke on lap 33 of the 48-lap event. (National Museum of the U.S. Air Force)
Rick later went to work as a salesman for the Columbus Buggy Co., which was then making Firestone-Columbus automobiles. He joined automobile designer Fred Duesenberg in 1912 and struck out on his own as a race car driver. He soon established a reputation as a daring driver and won some races — but not without numerous accidents and narrow escapes. After each crash he telegraphed his mother, telling her not to worry.
Although Rickenbacker set a world speed record of 134 mph at Daytona in 1914, he was never able to win the big prize at Indianapolis. While preparing for the Vanderbilt Cup Race in California in November 1916, he had his first ride in an aircraft — flown by Glenn Martin, who was beginning his own career as a pilot and aircraft manufacturer. Rickenbacker had a lifelong fear of heights, but he had not been apprehensive during the flight.
When America entered the war in 1917, Rickenbacker volunteered despite the fact that he was making a reported $40,000 a year at the time. He wanted to learn to fly, but at 27 he was overage for flight training and had no college degree. However, because of his fame as a race car driver, he was sworn in as a sergeant and sailed for Europe as a chauffeur. Contrary to legend, he was not assigned to General John J. Pershing but did wangle an assignment driving Colonel William ‘Billy’ Mitchell’s flashy twin-six Packard. He pestered Mitchell until he was permitted to apply for flight training, claiming to be 25, the age limit for pilot trainees.
After only 17 days as a student pilot, Rick graduated, was commissioned a lieutenant and assigned to the 94th Aero Squadron, under Major John Huffer, based at Gengoult Aerodome near Toul, France. Equipped with Nieuport 28s, it was the first American-trained fighter squadron to draw blood, when 1st Lt. Douglas Campbell and 2nd Lt. Alan Winslow brought down a Pfalz D.IIIa and an Albatros D.Va on April 14, 1918.
Rickenbacker was not accepted by the other squadron members — mostly Ivy League college graduates — at first. They considered him a country bumpkin without any social graces. In fact, he was described by one Yale graduate as ‘a lemon on an orange tree’ who tended ‘to throw his weight around the wrong way.’
Rickenbacker is flanked by 94th Aero Squadron pilots (left to right) 1st Lt. Reed Chambers, Capt. James Meissner, Rickenbacker, 1st Lt. T.C. Taylor and 1st Lt. J. H. Eastman. (U.S. Air Force)
Rickenbacker was happier tinkering with engines than socializing. Older than all the others, he was conservative in his flying and had to work to overcome a dislike for aerobatics. When he first arrived at the squadron he was coached by Major Raoul Lufbery, the training officer, but he soon developed his own aerial fighting techniques. He shared credit with Captain James Norman Hall for his first victory on April 29, 1918. He scored his first solo conquest on May 7, but it was not confirmed until after the war, when Hall — who had been shot down and taken prisoner in the same fight — reported the death of Lieutenant Wilhelm Scheerer of his captors’ unit, Royal Wurtemburg Jagdstaffel (Fighter Squadron) 64. As Rickenbacker’s string of victories grew, so did the respect of his squadron mates.
Rickenbacker’s technique was to approach his intended victims carefully, closer than others dared, before firing his guns. He had several hair-raising experiences when his guns unexpectedly jammed. He barely managed to nurse his Nieuport in for a safe landing on May 17, when the cloth ripped off its upper wing. But his luck held, and when he became an ace, his exploits — some wildly exaggerated by reporters — made headlines in the States. During interviews, he admitted he experienced fear during his encounters with the Germans but ‘only after it was all over.’
Rickenbacker scored his sixth victory on May 30, but on July 10 he began to suffer from sharp pains in his right ear. In Paris, the problem was diagnosed as a severe abscess, which had to be lanced and treated. He returned to the 94th on July 31 and got back into his stride on September 14, when he downed a Fokker D.VII.
On September 25, Rickenbacker was given command of the 94th, and on that same day he volunteered for a solo patrol. He spotted a flight of five Fokkers and two Halberstadt CL.IIs near Billy, France, and dived into them. Firing as he went through the formation, he shot one of each type down. His aggressive actions that day earned him the French Croix de Guerre and the coveted U.S. Medal of Honor, though the latter was not awarded until 12 years later.
By October 1, Rickenbacker’s score stood at 12 and he had been promoted to the rank of captain. He was the most successful U.S. Air Service fighter pilot alive, and the press dubbed him ‘America’s Ace of Aces.’ He disliked that title, however, because he felt ‘the honor carried the curse of death.’ Three others had held that title before him — Lufbery, David Putnam and Frank Luke — and all had died.
Rickenbacker was flying with greater confidence since the 94th had replaced its Nieuport 28s with more rugged Spad 13s in mid-July 1918. He had several close calls and crash landings. He barely made it back from one battle with a fuselage full of bullet holes, half a propeller and a scorched streak on his helmet where an enemy bullet had nearly found its mark.
During October 1918, Rickenbacker scored 14 victories for what he and World War I historians have always claimed made a total of 26. In the 1960s the U.S. Air Force fractionalized his shared victories, reducing his total to 24.33, including four balloons. He flew a total of 300 combat hours, more than any other American pilot, and survived 134 aerial encounters with the enemy. ‘So many close calls renewed my thankfulness to the Power above, which had seen fit to preserve me,’ he wrote in his memoirs.
“Capt. Eddie” poses beside the Halberstadt observation airplane that he and fellow squadronmate Reed Chambers, forced down on October 2, 1918. (National Archives)
The kid from Columbus came home a national hero, but he had been humbled by the experience, unlike some who gloried in the brief fame they had won. He had no illusions about the durability of being a national hero, saying, ‘I knew it would be easy to go from hero to zero.’ Although he was wined and dined from coast to coast and received many offers to endorse commercial products, he refused them all. When a motion picture producer offered him $100,000 to act in unspecified roles, he declined, although he was by then broke from supporting his family.
When Rickenbacker left active duty, he was promoted to major. But he said, ‘I felt that my rank of captain was earned and deserved,’ and he used that title proudly the rest of his life.
Although he wanted to get into some aspect of aviation, he found that the industry was not really ready for him. He believed in its future and made speeches forecasting its unlimited potential. His second career choice was automobile manufacturing. With three well-known automobile executives from the EMF Company — Barney Everitt, William Metzger and Walter E. Flanders — as backers, Rickenbacker became vice president and director of sales for the Rickenbacker Motor Company. The initial Rickenbacker designs, the first cars to have four-wheel brakes, rolled off the assembly line in Detroit in 1922.
He traveled around the country in a German Junkers, attempting to set up nationwide dealerships. However, a recession in 1925 and vicious competition led to the company’s downfall. Rickenbacker resigned, thinking that might help the company, but it went bankrupt two years later. Now 35, Rickenbacker found himself a quarter of a million dollars in debt but refused to declare personal bankruptcy. He vowed to pay off every penny of debt — and did eventually, ‘through hard work and some fortunate business deals.’
In November 1927 Rickenbacker was offered financing by a friend to buy the majority of the common stock of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He served as the speedway’s president until after World War II, a job that was not time-consuming and allowed him to look for other means of income to repay his debts. He started a comic strip called Ace Drummond that ran in 135 newspapers and published a book titled Fighting the Flying Circus, both based on his World War I experiences.
All this was not enough activity or income for the hyperactive Rickenbacker, however, and he was also appointed head of sales by General Motors for La Salle and Cadillac autos. Meanwhile, he continued to give speeches promoting aviation and was involved in several crashes as a passenger during his flights around the country, miraculously escaping each time without injury. On one occasion the plane he was in hit a house, and the end of a two-by-four missed his head by two inches.
Rickenbacker was still so well-known that he always attracted crowds as a speaker. He is credited with helping to persuade the city fathers of 25 cities to develop airports, including one in the nation’s capital.
In 1926 he got his first experience in commercial aviation when he and several associates formed Florida Airways. When that venture folded, Rickenbacker was appointed vice president of General Aviation Corporation (formerly Fokker), followed in 1933 by vice president of North American Aviation and general manager of its subsidiary, Eastern Air Transport.
Rickenbacker made national headlines again when President Franklin D. Roosevelt canceled the commercial airlines’ air mail contracts in February 1934 and announced that the Army Air Corps would take over those routes. To show that the airlines were better qualified to fly the mail, Rickenbacker — with Jack Frye, vice president of TWA, and a contingent of journalists — flew coast-to-coast in the one and only Douglas DC-1, granddaddy of all ‘Gooney Birds,’ in 13 hours and two minutes, a transcontinental record for commercial planes. It was a public protest against what Rickenbacker bitterly denounced as ‘legalized murder,’ since three Army pilots had died trying to get to their assigned stations.
The Air Mail Act of 1934 was passed after several more Army pilots were killed because they were untrained in instrument flying and their aircraft were inadequately equipped. The legislation changed the structure of U.S. civil aviation, establishing the Civil Aviation Authority, which was granted control over airports, air navigation aids, air mail and radio communications. Under the terms of the act, General Motors had to divest itself of most of its aviation holdings, but it was permitted to retain General Aviation Corporation and a reorganized Eastern Air Transport, with its name changed to Eastern Air Lines.
When Rickenbacker was named Eastern’s general manager, he wanted to make the airline independent of government subsidy. He began to build the airline by improving salaries, working conditions, maintenance and passenger service, and making stock options available to employees. A modest profit ($38,000) in 1935 proved the worth of the changes he had instituted. Ten new 14-passenger DC-2s, the beginning of ‘The Great Silver Fleet,’ were ordered to replace Stinsons, Condors, Curtiss Kingbirds and Pitcairn Mailwings. Rickenbacker co-piloted the first DC-2, Florida Flyer, on a record-setting flight from Los Angeles to Miami on November 8, 1934.
Eastern at the end of 1934 was setting the pace for air transportation by flying passengers, mail and express on eight-hour nighttime schedules between New York and Miami and nine-hour schedules between Chicago and Miami to make connections with Pan American’s system to South America and the Caribbean. In April 1938, Rickenbacker and several associates bought the airline for $3.5 million and he became its president and general manager. He promptly sat down and wrote a paper titled ‘My Constitution,’ which outlined 12 personal and business principles that would guide him in leading the airline. One of them was indicative of his work ethic: ‘I will always keep in mind that I am in the greatest business in the world, as well as working for the greatest company in the world, and I can serve humanity more completely in my line of endeavor than in any other.’
A weather reporting and analysis system was inaugurated, and radio communications were improved. A reduction in fares brought an immediate increase in passenger traffic. The company became a bonded carrier, the first airline in the world to take such an action. It meant that goods entering the U.S. by air or surface craft could be transported by Eastern under bond for delivery to any city having a custom house. As Rickenbacker saw it, Eastern was the first airline to operate as a free-enterprise company — without government subsidy for many years, it was the only one. In 1937, it was also the first airline to receive an award from the National Safety Council, after having operated for seven consecutive years (1930 — 1936) and flying more than 141 million passenger miles without a passenger fatality. However, that record ended in August 1937 with a fatal DC-2 crash at Daytona Beach.
On February 26, 1941, Rickenbacker’s personal luck nearly ran out. He was aboard a DC-3 equipped as a sleeper that smashed into trees on an approach to Atlanta 11 passengers and the two pilots died. For days Rickenbacker, badly injured, hovered between life and death, and it took nearly a year before he could get back to work. Some said that it was only Rickenbacker’s cantankerous nature that pulled him through a difficult recovery. Afterward he slumped a little and walked with a slight limp.
Rescue workers carry a badly injured Capt. Rickenbacker from the wreckage of an Eastern Airlines Mexico City Silver Sleeper which crashed near Morrow, GA. (Atlanta Journal/Constitution)
In the journey from fighter ace to airline president, Rickenbacker’s personality turned away some would-be admirers who found it hard to accept his brusqueness and caustic way of ‘chewing out’ subordinates — in private or before several hundred people. Rickenbacker could never get used to the idea of women working for an airline, especially as stewardesses. He preferred to hire male stewards because he believed they were less likely to leave the company soon after being trained. He worked a seven-day week himself, demanded that his employees work on Saturdays, and was a fanatic about punctuality and a penny-pincher when it came to company expenses. (He had to personally approve any expenditure over $50.)
But many of his associates thought his toughness was a sham and tried not to take his scathing comments too much to heart. He was always able to make instant, no-nonsense decisions, and he was fair and loyal to his employees, despite his acidic manner. Most important, he got results. He set his own annual salary at $50,000 in 1938, and it never changed over the next 25 years — despite the fact that he built the airline into one of the nation’s four largest carriers during that time.
Rickenbacker continually expounded on the old-fashioned values, especially thrift. (He always put out the lights in unoccupied offices he found in his frequent prowlings around the airline’s headquarters.) He started a company newspaper — Great Silver Fleet News — which carried his personal advice about living and working. One issue had this wise counsel under the heading, ‘Captain Eddie Says’: ‘If you cannot afford it, do without it. If you cannot pay cash for it, wait until you can but do not in any circumstances permit yourself to mortgage your future and that of your family through time payment plans or other devices.’ Subsequent editions sermonized: ‘You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift,’ and ‘None of us here is doing so much work that he cannot do more.’
By the end of 1941, Eastern was serving 40 cities with 40 DC-3s. There were also three Stinson Reliants used for instrument training and a Kellett autogiro that flew the mail on an experimental basis from Philadelphia’s main post office to the Camden, N.J., airport.
The advent of World War II drastically changed all the commercial airlines. Eastern had to give up half its fleet to the military services and took on the task of military cargo airlift, flying Curtiss C-46s to South America and across the South Atlantic to Africa. With the government dictating what the airlines did, Rickenbacker was only able to stand by and see that Eastern held up its end.
In September 1942 Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson asked Rickenbacker to visit England as a non-military observer, to evaluate equipment and personnel because of his ‘clear and sympathetic understanding of human problems in military aviation.’ Rick asked for a salary of only a dollar a year and paid his own expenses. He was offered a commission as a brigadier general but refused it. The offer was upped to major general and again he refused. He wanted to be able to criticize whatever he found wrong without restraint.
When Rickenbacker returned to the States that October, Stimson immediately sent him to the Pacific on a similar inspection mission, which included taking a memorized, verbal message to General Douglas MacArthur from President Roosevelt. He was en route in a Boeing B-17 from Honolulu to Canton Island when the pilot got lost and had to ditch after running out of fuel. One of the eight men aboard was seriously injured during the ditching. The men retrieved three rafts, some survival rations and fishing kits from the sinking bomber, then roped rafts together to provide a larger target for search planes.
The next 22 days became a classic survival saga. Rickenbacker, dressed in his trademark gray fedora hat and business suit, took command of the situation, although a civilian. Such a strong-willed, independent thinker would not let military rank prevent him from stating what he thought and what decisions should be made.
Rickenbacker, center, is helped to a jeep by Col. Robert L. Griffin, Jr., left, and an unidentified member of the rescue plane's crew, after being flown to a South Pacific base following his rescue after 22 days afloat in a rubber raft. (National Archives)
No one knew where to look for them when they were overdue at Canton Island. They nearly starved and had only a few oranges for liquid until they caught some rainwater during squalls. Rickenbacker took charge of doling out the oranges and water in equal shares each day. Rickenbacker’s felt hat was used to catch the water, which was wrung out into a bucket from soaked articles of clothing.
The salt water quickly corroded the weapons that several had carried from the plane, so they would not fire when a few birds appeared overhead. Fish lines netted a shark, which tasted so bad no one could keep it down. But they also managed to catch smaller fish, which they divided into equal portions. Sharks were their constant companions, continually scraping against the bottom of the rafts. Sunburn was another serious threat.
As the days dragged monotonously on and no search planes appeared, Rickenbacker cajoled, insulted and angered everyone in an attempt to keep their hopes alive. One man tried to commit suicide to make room for the others, but Rickenbacker, accusing him of being a coward, hauled him back in. When all seemed hopeless, a sea swallow (similar to a sea gull) landed on Rick’s hat and he caught it. He twisted its neck, de-feathered it and cut the body into equal shares the intestines were used for bait. As far as Rickenbacker was concerned, the incident was proof that they would soon be rescued and should not lose faith. He was convinced that God had a purpose in keeping them alive and insisted that prayers be said each night.
One man did die, however, and his body was allowed to float away from the raft as the others recited the Lord’s Prayer. They all steadily weakened as time went on, and bitter arguments ensued with Rickenbacker as the focus of harsh remarks. But the airline executive believed that he must not admit defeat, and he used sarcasm and ridicule to keep the others from giving up. He later learned that several of the other survivors had sworn an oath that they would continue living just for the pleasure of burying him at sea.
After the second week afloat, there were several frustrating days when search planes flew nearby but failed to see them. It was decided after some wrangling that the three rafts would be allowed to drift apart — in the hope that at least one might be seen. After three weeks, a search plane saw one of the rafts and the men were promptly picked up another raft drifted to an uninhabited island, where the occupants were found by a missionary who had a radio. Rickenbacker’s raft was located by a Navy Catalina flying boat, and once more Captain Eddie became front-page news. He had lost 60 pounds, had a bad sunburn and salt water ulcers, and was barely alive, but the famous Rickenbacker luck had held. The Boston Globe captioned his picture as ‘The Great Indestructible.’
Although he was weakened by the ordeal and could have come home immediately to a hero’s welcome, Rickenbacker continued on his mission to see General MacArthur and visit some bases in the war zone. Upon his return, he briefed Secretary Stimson and made extensive recommendations about survival equipment that should be adopted on a priority basis. Among them was a rubber sheet to protect raft occupants from the sun, as well as catch water. Another was the development of small seawater distilling kits. Both items eventually became standard equipment aboard lifeboats and aircraft life rafts.
Rickenbacker continued to serve the war effort by speaking at bond rallies and touring defense plants, and in mid-1943 was sent on a three-month, 55,000-mile trip to Russia and China via American war bases in Africa ‘and any other areas he may deem necessary for such purposes as he will explain in person.’ The mission included checking what the Russians were doing with American equipment under the Lend-Lease agreement. He was allowed a rare view of Russian ground and air equipment and returned with valuable intelligence information.
Meanwhile, a wave of affection for Captain Eddie had led to his being touted by some as a candidate for president against Roosevelt, with whom he had strongly disagreed on many occasions. He was honored, he said, but ‘I couldn’t possibly win. I’m too controversial.’
When it appeared that victory in World War II was on the horizon in late 1944, the airlines began to return to normal operations. Rickenbacker encouraged Eastern’s expansion and placed orders for Lockheed Constellations and Douglas DC-4s. Those were followed by Martin 404s and Lockheed Electras. The Cold War began with the Berlin Airlift, followed by the Korean War, which forced more changes upon the airlines.
The introduction of jets to airline operations in the late 1950s caused serious adjustment problems. Rickenbacker resisted the changeover to some extent. He later recalled, ‘To keep up with the Joneses, we had to replace perfectly good piston-powered and turboprop airliners with the expensive new jets.’ He preferred that the other airlines be first to take the risk of breaking them in.
Rickenbacker did not like the way the government interfered with private enterprise and believed it leaned toward more and more bureaucracy and control. He battled the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) about routes and fares and resisted what the competition was making him adopt against his better judgment. For example, he thought the other airlines were wrong in serving hot meals and labeling them ‘free.’ Since the CAB was subsidizing his competitors, he reasoned, the costs came from the taxpayers. He predicted that passengers would eventually have to pay for liquor, which they do today. And Eastern finally had to give in and hire female flight attendants.
In 1953, Rickenbacker moved up to chairman of the board but remained general manager. In his memoirs, he proudly stated that in his 25 years as head of Eastern’ ‘We were never in red ink, we always showed a profit, we never took a nickel of the taxpayers’ money in subsidy, and we paid our stockholders reasonable dividends over the years, the first domestic airline to do so. During the postwar years, when all the other lines were in red ink and were running to the Civil Aeronautics Board for more routes and more of the taxpayers’ money in subsidies, the Board would point to Eastern Air Lines as a profitable company and suggest that the other airlines emulate our example.’
When a new Eastern president was appointed, Rickenbacker found it difficult to let go of the reins. The company began a slow downhill slide as competition got tougher and Rickenbacker refused to give up the power in the company he had held for so many years. One of the noteworthy innovations during this period, however, was the Eastern Air-Shuttle between Washington and New York. It began on April 30, 1961, with Lockheed Constellations and operated 20 round trips per day, flying empty or full, with no reservations required.
Rickenbacker reluctantly retired from Eastern on the last day of 1963 at age 73. He bought a small ranch near Hunt, Texas, but it proved to be too remote, especially for his wife, Adelaide. After five years, they donated the ranch to the Boy Scouts, lived in New York City for a while, and then moved to Coral Gables, Fla. Rickenbacker suffered a stroke in October 1972, but his famous luck held once more, and he recovered enough to visit Switzerland. He died there of pneumonia on July 23, 1973.
Captain Eddie’s eulogy was delivered in Miami by General James H. ‘Jimmy’ Doolittle his ashes were buried beside his mother in the Columbus, Ohio, family plot. Four jet fighters flew overhead during the ceremony. One turned on its afterburners and zoomed up and out of sight in the traditional Air Force ‘missing man’ salute to a brother pilot.
In an obituary published in a national magazine, William F. Rickenbacker, one of Captain Eddie’s two sons, wrote: ‘Among his robust certainties were his faith in God, his unswerving patriotism, his acceptance of life’s hazards and pains, and his trust in persistent hard work. No scorn could match the scorn he had for men who settled for half-measures, uttered half-truths, straddled the issues, or admitted the idea of failure or defeat. If he had a motto, it must have been the phrase I’ve heard a thousand times: ‘I’ll fight like a wildcat!”
Hometown: Superior, Wisconsin
Years of Service: 1941 to 1945
Richard Bong was one of the most decorated American fighter pilots of all time. Achieving five confirmed kills was a feat that earned a fighter pilot the title of ace. However, at the end of World War II, Bong had achieved 40 confirmed kills, earning him the title "Ace of Aces." Bong admitted that his gunnery skills were poor, but he compensated by getting as close to his targets as possible, sometimes so close that he would fly through the debris of the enemy aircraft. During WWII he was the recipient of various congratulatory gifts from military elite, including a case of Scotch from WWI Ace Eddie Rickenbacker, when he beat Rickenbacker's record of 26 kills.
Bong received the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, seven Distinguished Flying Crosses, and 15 Air Medals. Tragically, on August 6, 1945, Bong's P-80 malfunctioned right after takeoff during a routine exercise, and while he managed to eject, he died in the accident.
Capt. David McCampbell, U.S. Navy
Hometown: Bessemer, Alabama
AKA: Commander of the &ldquoFabled Fifteen&rdquo
Years of Service: 1933 to 1964
David McCampbell attended the U.S. Naval Academy and began his 31 years of service in 1934. He received his "Wings of Gold" in 1938. After that he joined Fighting Squadron 4 (VF-4), followed by a three-year tour as a Landing Service Officer (LSO) aboard the USS Wasp. In the spring of 1944, McCampbell commanded Carrier Air Group 15, also known as the &ldquoFabled Fifteen.&rdquo While in command of the &ldquoFabled Fifteen,&rdquo McCampbell personally accrued 34 victories. The group as a whole earned 318 victories in total.
McCampbell's 34 aerial victories during his WWII missions made him the Navy's Ace of Aces. He was the only American airman to achieve "ace in a day" twice, one time shooting down seven Japanese bombers in a single afternoon. To add to his accomplishments, he shot down nine enemy aircraft in another mission, which was a new world record. He was an unstoppable force to be reckoned with, and was the highest scoring American ace to survive the war. In recognition of his contributions and service, he was personally presented the Medal of Honor by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Col. Gregory Boyington, U.S. Marine Corps
Years of Service: 1934 to 1947
Wars: Second Sino-Japanese War, World War II
Gregory "Pappy" Boyington began his career as a Marine Corps officer, but he later resigned from the Marine Corps to serve with the legendary Flying Tigers, an American volunteer squadron that supported China in the Sino-Japanese War. He claimed six victories as a Flying Tiger before re-joining the Marines in September 1942. He served as the Commanding Officer of VMF-214, nicknamed the &ldquoBlack Sheep.&rdquo At this point in time he was 31, a decade older than most Marines, resulting in Boyington acquiring the monkers &ldquoPappy&rdquo and "Gramps."
Pappy shot down 26 enemy fighter planes, tying Eddie Rickenbacker's WWI record of 26 victories. (His self-claimed victory count is 28). He achieved his final kill in 1944, the same day that his aircraft was shot down in the Pacific. He was captured by a Japanese submarine team and held as a Japanese prisoner-of-war for over a year before being released in 1945, days after Japan's surrender.
Pappy received the Medal of Honor, the Navy Cross, and a Purple Heart for his heroism during the war. In the 1970s, the TV show &ldquoBaa Baa Black Sheep&rdquo was created based on Boyington and his Black Sheep squadron.
Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, U.S. Army
Years of Service: 1917 to 1919
Captain Eddie Rickenbacker was an American Fighter Ace during WWI. He is considered one of the most accomplished American pilots for his valor during the war, achieving an impressive 26 kills during WWI.
Rickenbacker was a race car driver prior to his military career. Due to his experience and abilities as a mechanic, he started off as an engineering officer at the U.S. Air Service's pursuit training facility. He eventually demonstrated his aeronautical aptitude to his superiors, which eventually earned him a placement the 94th Aero Squadron. Five months later, he was promoted to Captain. By the end of WWI, Rickenbacker held the record for the most aerial victories (26). He accumulated a total of 300 combat hours and received the Medal of Honor for his exceptional contributions during the war.
Brig. Gen. Joseph J. Foss, U.S. Marine Corps
Hometown: Sioux Falls, South Dakota,
AKA: Smokey Joe Old Joe Old Foss
Years of Service: 1939 to 1955
Joseph Foss dreamed of being a fighter pilot, but at the age of 26 he was considered too old, so the Navy sent him to the School of Photography to become an aerial photographer. Foss continued to make numerous requests to join a fighter pilot qualification program before finally being assigned to a training squadron to learn to fly the F-4F Wildcat. There he logged over 150 hours in just two months. He then joined Marine Fighter Squadron 121 (VMF-121), a United States Marine Corps F-4F squadron.
Foss eventually became famous for his close-up gunnery skills. In the battle of Guadalcanal, he shot down 26 enemy aircraft with his team of 8 Wildcats. His team, which was dubbed &ldquoFoss' Flying Circus,&rdquo shot down 72 Japanese aircraft during that battle. His 26 victories made him the first American pilot to match Ace Eddie Rickenbacker's record from WWI. Upon returning from war, Foss was awarded the Medal of Honor and dubbed America's first WWII "Ace-of-Aces." He later became the youngest governor of South Dakota at the age of 39, the first commissioner of the American Football League (which eventually merged with the NFL) and a president for the National Rifle Association.
Frank Luke, Dragon Slayer
On September 12, 1918, Frank Luke was flying one his first missions against the German Drachen. Flying solo as usual. After separating from the squadron in search of glory, he found his first balloon and shot it down. This time around, he did not fly back and declare another kill. He took it upon himself to fly back to the Allied line and land near an American balloon to take witness statements before returning to his command victoriously. September 12 th would mark the beginning of Frank Luke’s wild and heroic career as the Arizona Balloon Buster, or a name I much prefer: Frank Luke, Dragon Slayer.
Between the 12 th and the 18 th , Frank Luke found a tempo for himself, going out over No Man’s Land, sometimes solo, sometimes with Joseph Wehner. Frank Luke shot down two balloons on the 14 th , then three more on the 15 th . Wehner himself was another exceptional pilot, aggressive enough to keep up with Frank Luke’s style. Wehner brought down one Fokker plane and assisted in bringing down the balloons. When they landed at the end of their mission, Frank Luke and Joseph Wehner were both aces. To put Luke and Wehner’s flying into perspective, America’s ace of aces, Eddie Rickenbacker, who had a friendly relationship with Frank Luke, became an ace in just shy of one month.
Weird! Air America Huey Helicopter Shot Down Two Vietnamese Biplanes By Firing An AK-47 Out The Door
On 12 January 1968, four North Vietnamese Air Force AN-2 Colt biplanes lifted off from an airfield in northeastern North Vietnam and headed west toward Laos. The aircraft were on a mission to destroy a US radar base that was guiding bombers in attacks against targets in North Vietnam.
The An-2 is used as a light utility transport, parachute drop aircraft, agricultural work and many other tasks suited to this large slow-flying biplane. Its slow flight and good short field performance make it suited for short, unimproved fields, and some specialized variants have also been built for cold weather and other extreme environments.
Known to the Americans as Site 85, the radar facility was perched atop a 5,800-foothigh mountain, Phou Pha Thi. Manned by US Air Force volunteers “sheepdipped” as employees of the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, the site had been in operation only a few months.
The mountain, used for many years as a staging base for CIA-directed Hmong guerilla fighters and American special operations and rescue helicopters, was only 125 nautical miles from Hanoi. Air America, a CIA-proprietary, provided aerial support for the facility, the technicians, and the security forces.
The U.S. facility atop of Phou Pha Thi, known as Lima Site 85, was the site of a major battle on 10 March 1968.
On 12 January, CIA spotters reported a four aircraft formation flying in the direction of Lima Site 85. The aircraft spotted were Soviet-made Antonov An-2 biplanes. Two aircraft flew towards Lima Site 85, while the other two split off. The Vietnam People’s Air Force, in one of their few air attacks during the entire conflict, was attempting to destroy the radar at Lima Site 85. As the two An-2s flew over Phou Pha Thi, their crews dropped 120 mm mortar shells through the aircraft’s floor and also strafed their targets with 57 mm rockets from the wing pods.
Coincidentally, Air America captain Ted Moore, flying a UH-1D Huey helicopter carrying ammunition to the site, saw the attack (“It looked like World War I,” he recalled.) and gave chase to a Colt as it turned back to the Vietnamese border. Moore positioned his helicopter above the biplane, as crewman Glenn Woods fired an AK-47 rifle down on it.
Air America Huey taking off from MACV Team outpost in Chau Doc Province, An Phu District in 1969, about 1 km from the Cambodian border.
The pursuit continued for more than 20 minutes until the second AN-2 flew underneath the helicopter. Dropping back, Moore and Woods watched as the first AN-2 dropped and crashed into a ridge just west of the North Vietnamese border. Minutes later, the second Colt hit the side of a mountain three miles farther north. The other Colts escaped, inactive observers throughout. Within hours, a CIA-controlled ground team reached the crashed aircraft and found bullet holes in the downed planes.
In the mists of the Annamite Mountains and part of a secret war, Air America employees Ted Moore and Glenn Woods gained the distinction of having shot down a fixed-wing aircraft from a helicopter, a singular aerial victory in the Vietnam War. Two months later, North Vietnamese commandos attacked and destroyed Site 85, inflicting the deadliest single ground loss of US Air Force personnel of the Vietnam War.
On 27 July 2007, CIA officially received An Air Combat First in an event attended by members of the Air America Board pilot Ted Moore Sawang Reed, the wife of flight mechanic Glenn Woods CIA paramilitary legend Bill Lair and the donors of the painting, former Air America officers Marius Burke and Boyd D. Mesecher.