America’s Highest Decoration for Bravery, The Medal of Honor, Was Awarded to the Aviator Charles Lindbergh for his Successful Solo Transatlantic Flight on This Day in 1927
It’s hard to find a more iconic American hero than Charles Lindbergh, or someone who led a more complicated life. On this day in 1927, he flew a single-engine Ryan aircraft from New York to Paris, becoming the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic. The plane had no front windshield, so taxiing was difficult, but it was nothing compared to the other challenges he met during that flight. Lindbergh had no autopilot for his 33.5-hour flight, navigated by the stars (when he could see them, dead reckoning when he couldn’t), fought icing, bad weather, and exhaustion before landing in Paris to be greeted by 150,000 people.
After rocketing from relative obscurity to hero status, Lindbergh’s life became, as mentioned above, complicated. His son was kidnapped and murdered in 1932, and he and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, moved to Europe in 1935. He visited Germany many times, reporting on the German Air Force, and even met with the Luftwaffe’s Herman Goring. In 1939, after Germany invaded Poland, Lindbergh resigned his commission in the U.S. Army and took a firm stance regarding America’s involvement in WW II, which he was strongly against until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. After that, Lindbergh moved back to the U.S. and flew many combat missions in the Pacific Theater of Operations as a civilian advisor working for various aircraft companies. He flew over 50 missions, and even shot down a Japanese plane.
Well after his death in 1974 it was discovered that Lindbergh had a long-term (1957-1974) relationship with a German woman with whom he fathered four children (in addition to the six he had with Anne). Yes, a complicated life. Lindbergh is buried in Hawaii, and the Spirit of St. Louis, the plane which made him famous, hangs in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.