Saturday, February 4, 2012

Rickenbacker by Rickenbacker

“My life has been filled with adventures that have brought me
face to face with death.”

So begins the classic 1967 autobiography of Edward “Eddie” Rickenbacker (1890 – 1973), World War I flying ace, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, race car driver, Ace Drummond comic strip writer, General Motors executive, former owner of Eastern Airlines and survivor of planes crashes, car crashes and the guns of Baron Manfred von Richthofen’s Flying Circus. There was nobody quite like Eddie Rickenbacker before or since. The publication of his autobiography was cause for celebration. The book was eagerly sought by those old timers in my family who well remembered an era long past; those pre-Depression era days when men like Rickenbacker cut a trail of true-life adventures across a world that was increasingly complex and violent. The book is a joy to read. I retrieved it from an old box I had stored in my closet and spent an afternoon going over it again, and I marveled at Rickenbacker’s easy style, his attention to detail and the treasured anecdotal details that you’ll find in this 500 page autobiography. By the time this book was published the era that Rickenbacker wrote about was long past and already seemed like ancient history during a period when sex, drugs and rock and roll had become part of the counter-culture movement of the swinging 60s. And here was Rickenbacker, an old lion, the last of his kind, telling it like it was for a generation that really had no idea who he was. The book was published to favorable reviews and vanished. The copy I owned belonged to my grandparents, Andrew and Edna McNulty. They did not own many books, but they saved the Rickenbacker. It meant something to them. 1967 was “the summer of love” and Rickenbacker was an anomaly. As I boy I was enthralled by his adventures. The old timers spoke his name with awe. Rickenbacker had previously published his World War I memoir Fighting the Flying Circus in 1919 which remains in print. I recommend Fighting the Flying Circus as well for a fuller description of his aerial combat adventures.

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