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Charles Lindbergh
1902 - 1974


He was the century's first hero and unwittingly pioneered the age of mass-media celebrity
By REEVE LINDBERGH for Time Magazine


I was the youngest of four brothers and two sisters and grew up during the second half of my father's life, when the early years of triumph, tragedy and controversy were over. I felt no personal familiarity with the famous 1927 flight, and if I asked my father about that accomplishment, he would say only, "Read my book!"

He wrote this passage on the flight: "Now I've burned the last bridge behind me. All through the storm and darkest night, my instincts were anchored to the continent of North America, as though an invisible cord still tied me to its coasts. In an emergency — if the ice-filled clouds had merged, if oil pressure had begun to drop, if a cylinder had started missing — I would have turned back toward America and home. Now, my anchor is in Europe: on a continent I've never seen... Now, I'll never think of turning back."

Sometimes, though, I wonder whether he would have turned back if he'd known the life he was headed for.

My father Charles Lindbergh became an American hero when he was 25 years old. After he made the first nonstop solo flight from New York to Paris in 1927, in a tiny silver monoplane called Spirit of St. Louis, his very existence took on the quality of myth. Overwhelming, overnight celebrity followed him home from Paris to the U.S. and around the nation on his tour promoting aviation. Fame followed him on his goodwill tour to Mexico late in 1927, where he met the U.S. ambassador's daughter Anne Morrow, who married him in 1929. They travelled all over the world as pioneer aviator-explorers, mapping air routes for the fledgling airline industry. Together they navigated by the stars and watched the great surfaces of the earth revealed beneath their wings: desert and forest and jungle and tundra, wild rivers and wide-open oceans. Land, sea and air: all of it seemed to be endless; all of it seemed to be theirs.

On the ground, my parents were dogged by the media, and they believed the excesses of the press were responsible for the kidnapping and death of their first son Charles in 1932. They withdrew to Europe to protect the children born after the tragedy, and returned to the U.S. just before World War II. My father then joined the isolationist America First movement, becoming a leader in the effort to keep the U.S. from entering what was seen by many Americans as a European war.

At odds with President Roosevelt and the interventionists, my father was branded a traitor, a Copperhead and even a Nazi. When he travelled to Germany to review German air power at the request of the American military attache in Berlin, he was given a medal by his Nazi hosts and later ignored public appeals to repudiate and return it. (He had in fact sent it to a museum, as he did other awards he received throughout his life.) Finally, and disastrously, my father made a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1941, identifying as the three groups unwisely advocating U.S. entry into the war "the British, the Roosevelt Administration and the Jews."

I was virtually unaware of my father's prewar isolationism until I went to college and was shocked to learn that he was considered anti-Semitic. I had never thought of him this way. He never spoke with hatred or resentment against any groups or individuals, and in social discourse he was unfailingly courteous, compassionate and fair. In the 1941 speech, however, I could read a chilling distinction in his mind between Jews and other Americans. This was something I did not recognize in the father I knew, something I had been taught to condemn under the heading "discrimination," something from another time.

The U.S. entered the war, and one hero's tarnished reputation did not mean much in the context of the unspeakable horror of the Holocaust or the wartime destruction visited upon the world. My father released a statement saying "Now [war] has come and we must meet it as united Americans." He was denied an Army commission, but found work as an adviser to Henry Ford, building warplanes at Willow Run, and a civilian consultant to fighter pilots in the Pacific. By 1945, the year I was born, my parents were trying to leave the past behind them, and they bought a house in Connecticut to raise their family in peace and privacy. I never knew my brother Charles, but I felt the effect of his loss in the studied privacy and anonymity of our Connecticut suburb, with its shaded streets and unmarked mailboxes.

I am touched by the enormity of my father's accomplishment in its effect upon both those who witnessed it and those whom it inspired. People still tell me exactly where they were standing when they heard the news of his landing in Paris. Generations of pilots still talk of his influence upon their careers. I am moved again by people who remember the kidnapping and death of my brother, recalling their own fears as children or their compassion for my parents' loss. I have talked to prewar isolationists too, who defend my father's political position as an honorable one, even while feeling the distress I have felt about some of his speeches and writings.

He almost never talked to me about the past, because he lived so intensely in the present, never turning back. He did talk a great deal about newer concerns, chief among them the urgent need for balance between technological advancement and environmental preservation. When I knew him best, late in his life, he was flying around the world again, as he had done in the early days, but this time on behalf of endangered species, wild places and vanishing tribal peoples. He believed the aviation technology he loved was partly responsible for the devastation of modern warfare and the degradation of the natural environment. "If I had to choose," he said, "I would rather have birds than airplanes," and he worked to promote an ethic in which birds and planes could continue to coexist.

My father was born with this century, grew up with it and experienced both its adventures and its excesses as few other human beings have done. He came of age with his country and his era and reflected both in many ways--not all of them, perhaps, entirely heroic. Yet my father, through intense public and private struggle, acquired over time a kind of reflective wisdom that took him far beyond his early fame. His journey through this century may have made him a greater hero in his quiet final years than he was in the tumultuous, triumphant days of 1927.


Charles Augustus Lindbergh (1902-1974), American aviator, made the historic first solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean.

Charles A. Lindbergh was born on February 4, 1902, in Detroit, Michigan. His father was a congressman from Minnesota (1907-1917). After attending schools in Little Falls, Minnesota, and Washington, D.C., Lindbergh enrolled in a mechanical engineering program at the University of Wisconsin. He left to study flying in Lincoln, Nebraska (1920-1922). He made his first solo flight in 1923 and thereafter made exhibition flights and short hops in the Midwest. He enrolled in the U.S. Air Service Reserve as a cadet in 1924 and graduated the next year. In 1926 he made his first flight as an airmail pilot between Chicago and St. Louis.

Lindbergh wanted to compete for the $25, 000 prize that Raymond Orteig had posted for the first nonstop flight between New York and Paris. With financial backing from St. Louis businessmen, Lindbergh had the Spirit of St. Louis built. On the first lap of his flight to New York, he traveled nonstop to St. Louis in 14 hours and 25 minutes - record-breaking time from the West Coast.

On May 20, 1927, Lindbergh took off in his silverwinged monoplane from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, bound for Le Bourget Airport outside Paris. Better-equipped and better-known aviators had failed; some had even crashed to their death. But Lindbergh succeeded. He arrived on May 21, having traveled 2, 610 miles in 33 1/2 hours. He was immediately acclaimed a hero and received numerous honors and decorations, including the Congressional Medal of Honor, the French Chevalier Legion of Honor, the Royal Air Cross (British), and the Order of Leopold (Belgium). During a 75-city American tour sponsored by the Daniel Guggenheim Foundation for the Promotion of Aeronautics, he was greeted by wild demonstrations.

In December 1927 Lindbergh flew nonstop between Washington and Mexico City and went on a goodwill trip to the Caribbean and Central America. During one tour he met Anne Spencer Morrow, the daughter of the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, and married her in 1929. The Lindberghs made many flights together. In 1931 they flew to Asia, mapping air routes to China, and two years later in a 30, 000-mile flight they explored possible trans-oceanic air routes.

In March 1932 tragedy struck the Lindbergh family when their infant son was kidnapped. A $50, 000 ransom was paid, but the baby was found dead. The nation's concern and horror resulted in legislation expanding the role of Federal government law-enforcement agencies in dealing with such crimes, specifically empowering the government to demand the death penalty for kidnapers taking victims across state lines. After the execution of the convicted murderer in 1935, the Lindberghs moved to Europe. While in France, Lindbergh worked with Alexis Carrel, an American surgeon and experimental biologist who in 1912 had won the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine. The two men perfected an "artificial heart and lungs, " a perfusion pump to keep organs alive outside the body by supplying blood and air to them.

In the late 1930s Lindbergh conducted various air-power surveys in Europe. He toured German aviation centers at the invitation of Nazi leader Hermann Göring and became convinced of Nazi military invincibility. Also in the 1930s he was on the Board of Directors of Pan-American World Airways. In 1939 he surveyed American airplane production as special adviser on technical matters. He performed noteworthy promotional work for aviation during this period.

Just prior to World War II, as a member of the America First Organization, Lindbergh warned that United States involvement could not prevent a German victory. He was criticized by President Franklin D. Roosevelt for radio broadcasts urging America to refrain from fighting in "other people's wars." As a result, Lindbergh resigned his commission in the U.S. Air Force. After the Japanese attack in 1941, he supported the American effort, serving as a civilian technician for aircraft companies in several theaters of war. After the war he once again became a technical adviser for the U.S. Air Force and eventually was recommissioned a brigadier general in the Air Force Reserve.

The great aviator's Nazi sympathies severely damaged his reputation in the public eye. But the popularity of his and his wife's books helped restore some of the esteem he had lost due to his infatuation with Hitler. Lindbergh wrote several accounts of his epic-making 1927 flight. We (1927) and The Spirit of St. Louis (1953), for which he received the Pulitzer Prize for biography, are interesting and modest summaries of his early life and accomplishments. With Carrel he coauthored Culture of Organs (1938), and in 1948 he wrote Of Flight and Life His later works included The Wartime Journals of Charles A, Lindbergh (1970) and Boyhood on the Upper Mississippi: A Reminiscent Letter (1972). An Autobiography of Values (1977) was published posthumously. Toward the end of his life he grew increasingly interested in the spiritual realm. He also spoke out on environmental issues. He spent his final years with his wife in a house they had built on a remote portion of the island of Maui. He died there on August 26, 1974.

After her husband's death, Anne Morrow Lindbergh continued to publish books of her diaries and letters. She retired to Darien, Connecticut, where a series of strokes sapped her of her faculties. In 1992, she was the victim of an embezzlement scam devised by a woman whom her children had hired to manage her adily affairs. The state of Connecticut joined with the Lindbergh children in pressing charges against the perpetrator.











This web page was last updated on: 12 December, 2008