Edward Vernon "Eddie" Rickenbacker, 1890 - 1973

portrait of Eddie Rickenbacker
Portrait by Underwood and Underwood (ca. 1919)

Born: 8 October 1890, Columbus, Ohio
Died: 27 July 1973, Zürich, Switzerland

Born Edward Reichenbacher to a German-speaking Swiss family at Columbus, Ohio, he left school in the seventh grade to support his mother after his father died. He made a name as a race-car driver, then changed it to Rickenbacker when anti-German sentiment increased in the run up to World War I. He thought the new name looked plain so signed his name 26 times, liked the looks of the name best with "V" as his middle initial, then chose Vernon as a middle name. He used his talent with gasoline engines to get attached to the Army's air group and learned to fly in his off hours, because his superiors didn't want to lose his talent as a mechanic. After securing his own replacement he became America's "Ace of Aces" with 26 downed planes. He earned the Medal of Honor attacking a group of seven German planes, five Fokker fighters guarding two Halberstadt photo-reconnaissance planes, shooting down one of each and scattering the rest. He also was given seven Distinguish Service Crosses, the Victory Medal, and the Croix de guerre.

After the war he started a car company which went bankrupt, leaving $250,000 in debt, which he personally repaid. He bought the Indianapolis Speedway in 1927, operating the 500 until 1941. Rickenbacker managed Eastern Air Transport for General Motors, then and bought the operation and renamed it Eastern Airlines. He would spend the rest of his life battling the Civil Aeronautics Board. He suffered serious injuries as a passenger in a crash of a DC-3 outside Atlanta in 1941. While on a tour of the Pacific Theater he was aboard a B-17D Flying Fortress that ditched due to a navigation error, he and six others survived 24 days in two life rafts. His stubborn and vocal opposition to the CAB damaged Eastern's ability to operate, the board forced him out as president in 1953, he retired as Chairman of the Board in 1963. The Rickenbakers traveled extensively in retirement, he suffered a stroke in Switzerland, this was followed by a bout of pneumonia and his death.

Biography from Wikipedia

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