We just celebrated the 90th anniversary of one of the greatest achievements in the history of American aviation:
The first solo, non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean that was accomplished on May 20 and 21, 1927, by famed aviator Charles A. Lindbergh.
Taking off at 7:22 a.m. on May 20 from Roosevelt Field on New York’s Long Island in his one-engine aircraft “Spirit of St. Louis,” Lindbergh fought ice, fog and sleep deprivation during his nearly 34-hour, 3,600-mile flight before landing at Le Bourget Airport in Paris at 10:22 p.m. the following day.
Lindbergh, a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Service Reserve and a former air mail and stunt pilot, brought his gray and white plane to a perfect landing before an estimated 100,000 cheering Frenchmen who crowded the Paris field and adjoining avenues.
He hadn’t slept for 55 hours , having been up all night before his flight playing poker with friends.
He and his aircraft were carried back to the United States, on orders of President Calvin Coolidge, aboard the U.S. Navy’s light cruiser USS Memphis and he was given a ticker-tape parade down Broadway in New York City.
Four months later, while on a tour of U.S. cities, Detroit-born Lindbergh flew the Spirit of St. Louis, which he had named for his adopted hometown, to Reno on Sept. 19, landing at Blanch Field named for well-known Reno aviator William Blanchfield who had been killed in the early 1920s when his plane crashed into a field while he was dropping flowers over a Reno cemetery during a burial ceremony.
Welcomed by Reno Mayor E.E. Roberts, local dignitaries, University of Nevada Army ROTC cadets and members of the school’s football team, Lindbergh rode in an open car in a motorcade down Virginia Street, gave speeches at Idlewild and Powning parks, spoke at a banquet held in his honor and spent the night at the Riverside Hotel, which had been completed and opened to the public just a few weeks earlier.
The following day, he flew south to Carson City where he circled the Capitol Building twice, dipped his wings, and then flew on to Los Angeles.
Lindbergh, whose father was a congressman and his mother a schoolteacher, became an instant hero and media superstar. He was promoted to colonel in the Army Reserve and U.S. postage stamps in his honor were issued immediately after his historic flight, in 1957 on the 50th anniversary of the flight and in 1998.
Lindbergh and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, were devastated in early March, 1932, when their two-year-old son, Charles Jr., was kidnapped from their New Jersey estate and days later found buried in a shallow grave. After the execution of the man found guilty of the crime, the Lindberghs exiled themselves to England.
Three years later, the couple returned to the United States, and Lindbergh began campaigning against U.S. involvement in the approaching World War II, made several visits to Nazi Germany where he was entertained by high-ranking German military officers and, shortly before the war broke out in Europe, accepted the Service Cross of the German Eagle medal that was presented to him by Nazi leader Herman Goering on behalf of Adolph Hitler.
Lindbergh, an anti-Semite as well as a Nazi sympathizer and isolationist, affiliated with the far-right America First movement and spoke at several of the organization’s rallies across the nation. He joined Nevada U.S. Senator Patrick McCarran at the podium during some of these events, where he and McCarran, also an anti-Semite, promulgated their anti-Jewish views.
Following the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese air attack on Pearl Harbor which brought the U.S. into WW II, Lindbergh, who had become somewhat of a pariah because of his political and racist statements, supported the war effort, donned his Army flying uniform and flew nearly 50 combat missions in the Pacific Theater.
But after his death from cancer in August, 1974 at the age of 72 at his home on the Hawaiian island of Maui, his reputation went downhill once again when it was revealed that Lindbergh, who had fathered six children with his wife, Anne, and had often publicly criticized the extra-matrimonial affairs of some of his fellow aviators, had secretly fathered seven children with three German mistresses.
One-by-one, the three women, two of whom were sisters, came forward when the press finally learned of Lindbergh’s indiscretions, to tell lurid stories about their covert romances with him. They displayed more than 100 love letters he had written to them, and the women as well as some of their seven children spoke to the media about Lindbergh’s clandestine visits with them at their homes in Germany. Subsequent DNA tests of the children indicated that there was no doubt they were fathered by the famous pilot.
Lindbergh was buried in a churchyard near the isolated Maui house he and Anne had retired to before his death. His Spirit of St. Louis airplane is displayed at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
David C. Henley is publisher emeritus of the Lahontan Valley New