Inducted in 1974
America’s Top World War I Ace
1890 – 1973
The development of airplanes, equipment and engines flourished during World War I. Aerial fighting was introduced and innovative tactics were being devised to cope with this potentially devastating new tool of war. New words like “ace,” a pilot who had downed five or more enemy planes, entered the language. Foremost of the American “aces” was Captain Edward Vernon “Eddie” Rickenbacker, who ended the war with 26 victories, the highest number of victories of any of America’s 31 “aces.”
Rickenbacker entered the Army in 1917. He was attached to General John J. Pershing’s staff and served as a driver for Colonel William “Billy” Mitchell, the noted advocate of tactical air power. With Mitchell’s help, Rickenbacker became a fighter pilot and was assigned to the 94th Aero Pursuit Squadron, the famous “Hat in the Ring” Squadron.
Rickenbacker downed his first enemy plane on April 29, 1918, and scored his sixth victory on May 30. An ear infection kept him out of action through June, July and August, but in September he returned to the front and became the commanding officer of the 94th.
After World War I, Rickenbacker returned home and contributed significantly to the peacetime growth of American commercial aviation. He joined American Airways in 1932, North American Aviation, Inc., in 1933, and finally, Eastern Airlines in 1935. Rickenbacker became president, general manager, and director of Eastern three years later. During World War II, he served as a special representative of the United States Secretary of War.
For his wartime achievements, Rickenbacker was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor — recognition for his position as America’s greatest air duelist of World War I, “the ace of aces.”