Eddie Rickenbacker's contribution to aviation was only one of the many facets of a very distinguished and colorful life. He was a builder and racer of extraordinary automobiles. He drove the Mason race car, built by Fred Deusenberg, and competed against such worthy opponents as Louis Chevrolet and Barney Oldfield. Son of Swiss immigrants who settled in Columbus, Ohio, Rickenbacker left school at the age of 12 to support his mother and four younger siblings, when his father died in a construction accident. In his early teens, he worked beside men the age of his late father, but his mechanical skills and interests took him quickly beyond the factory floor. In 1914, Rickenbacker set a world speed record of 134 mph at Daytona. He became president of the Indianapolis Speedway, a position he held until after WWII. Although he had always had a fear of heights, he took his first flight with Glenn Martin in California in 1916. Suffering no ill effects, he became intrigued with flying. The following year, Rickenbacker volunteered for service in the United States Army. He was hoping to learn to fly, even thought he was over age and had no college degree. He went to Europe as sergeant driver assigned to General Pershing. After a period of duty as the personal driver for Billy Mitchell and through the apparent recommendation of Mitchell, Rickenbacker was assigned to attend flight school. After 17 days as a student pilot he was graduated, commissioned a lieutenant and assigned to the 94th Aero Squadron. In September of 1918, Rickenbacker became Squadron Commander. By October he had accounted for a total of 26 enemy victories and had been promoted to Captain. The media and the public declared him the "American Ace of Aces." His many Awards include the Croix de Guerre, the Distinguished Service Medal with 9 Oak Leaf Clusters, and The Congressional Medal of Honor. After the Armistice, he designed and built the Rickenbacker car, which was years ahead of its time, with such innovations as four wheel brakes. It failed to sell. His company bankrupt, Eddie refused to declare personal bank¬ruptcy, choosing to work hard at a number of jobs to discharge his debts. Head of sales at General Motors for LaSalle and Cadillac, Rickenbacker became general manager for reorganized Eastern Air Transport when General Motors was ordered to divest itself of all aviation holdings except Eastern. The reorganized company became Eastern Air Lines and quickly became a pace setter in air transportation. In April 1938, Rickenbacker and several associates bought the company, and he became president and general manager. He held these positions until 1953, when he became chairman of the board and general manager. He retired, reluctantly, at the end of 1963. A popular public figure and dynamic spokesman for the country that he loved, "Captain Eddie" performed several special missions for the United States Government during WWII. An ill-fated flight over the Pacific Ocean almost cost him his life in 1942. He was dispatched with an oral message for General Douglas McArthur from President Roosevelt, with whom Rickenbacker often disagreed but faithfully served. He and his party of eight were lost for 22 days when their pilot was forced to ditch for want of fuel. The party, adrift in rubber rafts, was held together by the tenacity and strength of Rickenbacker. Only one man died. It was only a year earlier that Rickenbacker was a passenger in an Eastern Air Lines DC 3 that crashed approaching the Atlanta airport which cost the lives of II passengers and both pilots. After the Pacific party was rescued, The Boston Globe captioned Rickenbacker's picture "The Great Indestructible." It was Rickenbacker who urged and supported William B. Hartsfield when he envisioned that the old Chandler race track could become Atlanta's airport. At a time when few operators used the facility, he made Atlanta the Eastern Air Lines hub of operations with flights arriving and departing from every direction. Atlanta became on of Eastern's major divisions. Everyone in the state of Georgia has benefited by his efforts.
Captain Edward V. Rickenbacker, patriot and "American Ace of Aces" was enshrined into the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame May 1, 1999