Don Lee: Rickenbacker was a WWI ace, race car driver, hero

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 1, 2021

EDITORS NOTE: Don Lee is taking a break from his column this week. The following is a piece that originally was published on Dec. 15, 2018:

Eddie Rickenbacker was a contemporary of our Bill Lambert and he had more official victories than our Captain Lambert. Of course, he was flying under the U.S. flag while Lambert was flying for the British.

Rickenbacker did most of his flying in a SPAD S.XIII, which was French design but manufactured both in France and England. It had the same 150 horsepower engine that powered Lambert’s favorite, the S.E. 5a. It was a V8 engine adapted from an automobile engine and was called Hispano-Suiza 8A.

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Rickenbacker was credited with 26 enemy victories of which, five were balloons. His logo for his group was Hat in the Ring. The hat represented the United States and the ring was an outgrowth of the custom of throwing one’s hat into the ring to challenge anyone else to a fight.

In his early years, he was a racetrack driver. He raced in the Indianapolis 500 four times before WWI and was known as Fast Eddie. He had an encounter with Townsend Dodd by repairing a stranded aircraft for him. This turned out to be a life-changing event for him.
Later, Mr. Dodd was General Pershing’s aviation officer, which eventually gave Captain Eddie a chance to become a combat aviator.

This is an example of “who you know” helping tremendously.

Captain Eddie came back to a grateful nation and he was feted in a several cities while on a tour to raise money to pay for the war although the war was over.

He was embarrassed by his poor delivery when he was asked to speak. By the time the tour finished, according to a report in the book, “The Aviators” by Winston Groom, he was an accomplished speaker.

He met some interesting people in his tour including Orville Wright and Raymond Orteig.

It appears that Ortieg was impressed by the vision that Rickenbacker had of uniting the nations of the world for peace by the possibility of the development of commercial aviation.

Orteig went on to offer a prize of $25,000 to the first person to fly from New York to Paris.

Of course, this inspired Charles Lindbergh to make the flight in 1927.

This accomplishment led to the Golden Age of aviation.

Captain Eddie has an U.S. Air Force base which now has commercial traffic near Columbus named after him.

It seems that we could remember our Captain Lambert by naming our airport to honor him and perhaps also Howard Mayes Sr. who was also a WWI fighter aviator.

Maybe we could rename the airport Lambert-Mayes Field.

This would distinguish it from the main airport in St Louis, which is Lambert Field.

Don Lee, a pilot flying out of Lawrence County Airport since 1970, has been in charge of equipment and grounds maintenance for the last several years. He can be reached at