By Tom Morrow
Charles Augustus Lindbergh, born Feb. 4, 1902, was an American aviator, author, inventor, explorer, and social activist, but most famous for his 1927 historic non-stop flight across the Atlantic from New York to Paris.
He took off May 20, from Roosevelt Field on Long Island, landing nearly 3,000 miles later at Le Bourget Field in Paris. Lindbergh was flying a specially-designed mono plane built by San Diego’s Ryan Aircraft. As a result of this flight, Lindbergh was the first person in history to be in New York one day and Paris the next. Lindbergh, a U.S. Army Air Corps Reserve officer, also was awarded the nation’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, for his historic, record-breaking feat. To the world he was known as “The Lone Eagle,” or “Lucky Lindy.”
During the late ‘20s and through the 1930s, Lindbergh was the most popular man in America – possibly the world. Lindbergh used his fame to promote the development of both commercial aviation and Air Mail services in the United States and the Americas. In March 1932, his infant first-born son, Charles, Jr., was kidnapped and murdered in what was soon dubbed the “Crime of the Century.” It was described by journalist H.L. Mencken, as “… the biggest story since the resurrection.” The kidnapping eventually led to the Lindbergh family’s being “driven into voluntary exile” in Europe, to which they sailed in secrecy from New York under assumed names in late December 1935, in order to seek a safe, secluded home away from the wild public hysteria. Charles and Anne Lindbergh returned to the United States in April 1939.
Before the United States formally entered World War II, in December 1941, Lindbergh had been an outspoken advocate of keeping the U.S. out of the world conflict, as had his father, U.S. Rep. Charles August Lindbergh, R-Minn., during World War I. Before Pearl Harbor, in apparent protest, “The Lone Eagle” had resigned his Army Air Corps colonel’s commission.
Although Lindbergh was a vocal leader in the anti-war America First movement, he nevertheless strongly supported the war effort after Pearl Harbor. He flew 50 combat missions in the Pacific Theater of World War II as a civilian consultant, though President Franklin D. Roosevelt had refused to reinstate his Army Air Corps colonel’s commission of which Lindbergh had resigned.
However, historians speculate just how serious Lindbergh was concerning his America First advocacy. Years after his death, classified documents were uncovered that indicated Lindbergh had made a number of trips to Nazi Germany, acting as a secret agent for the U.S. War Department. While he was invited by Germany to tour their aircraft manufacturing facilities and to see the new Luftwaffe’s air armada, reportedly, Lindbergh was taking careful notes and reporting back to the Army Air Corps about the Nazi buildup.
But, there was more discovered about the famed airman’s private life after his 1974 death. A German biography revealed Lindbergh was quite unlike his clean-cut, shy Boy Scout image. He had fathered no less than seven children to three secret European mistresses.
But ‘The Lone Eagle’ wasn’t always “alone.” In July 2003, some 29 years after Lindbergh’s 1974 death, one of the largest national daily newspapers in Germany reported he had fathered three out-of-wedlock children by a German hat maker Brigitte Hesshaimer. Two years later it was further revealed Lindbergh had fathered four more out-of-wedlock children with two other mistresses in Germany and Switzerland. All seven children had been born between 1958 and 1967. Though he visited yearly each of his “families,” none of the European children discovered the identity of their father until after his death on Aug. 26, 1974.
In his later years, Lindbergh was a prolific prize-winning author, international explorer, inventor, and environmentalist. His grave is near the Lindbergh family home at Hana on the Hawaiian island of Maui.
Today, San Diego’s International Airport, known as: “Lindbergh Field,” sits on the site where Ryan Aircraft built “The Spirit of San Louis.” The original plane “Lucky Lindy” flew across the Atlantic hangs in the Smithsonian Aerospace Museum in Washington, D.C. A replica, built by Ryan during the 1980s, is in the San Diego Aerospace Museum in Balboa Park.
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