Possibly the 20th Century’s Most Complicated Man
By Tom Morrow
Charles Augustus Lindbergh, born Feb. 4, 1902, was an American aviator, military officer, author, inventor, and activist. In 1927, at the age of 25, he went from an obscure U.S. Air Mail pilot, skyrocketing to making a never-before non-stop solo flight from New York City to Paris. That feat launched him onto the international stage to become one of the 20th century’s most complicated and controversial figures.
After his 33-plus hour solo flight from New York to Paris in a San Diego-built, single-engine Ryan monoplane named the Spirit of St. Louis, Lindbergh became the most popular man in the world. He was commissioned a colonel in the U.S. Army Air Corps Reserve, and received the United States’ highest military decoration, the Congressional Medal of Honor for his transatlantic flight.
From 1927 until his death 47 years later, “Lucky Lindy,” had an unbelievable controversial life from being an advocate of aviation to an isolationist with anti-Sematic leanings as well as the father of seven illegitimate children to three different mistresses. Lindbergh admired Adolf Hitler’s powerful air force, yet secretly spied for the U.S. military while visiting Germany – and, fathering five children to three unwed mothers.
In 1932, he and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, became the focus in headlines around the world when their infant son, Charles Jr., was kidnapped and murdered in what the media called the “Crime of the Century.” The hysteria surrounding the case drove the couple into exile in Europe, not returning until 1939.
At the clandestine request of the U.S. Army, Lindbergh traveled to Germany several times between 1936 and 1938 to “evaluate” growing German air power.
In the years before the United States entered World War II, his non-interventionist stance and statements about Jews led some to suspect he was a Nazi sympathizer. But Lindbergh never publicly stated support for Nazi Germany. He opposed not only the intervention of the United States, but also the provision of aid (Lend-Lease) to the United Kingdom. In April 1941, Lindbergh supported the anti-war “America First” committee and resigned his Army commission after President Franklin Roosevelt publicly rebuked him for his controversial “pro-German” views.
Lindbergh publicly supported the U.S. war effort after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. As a “civilian consultant,” Lindbergh flew 50 bombing missions against the Japanese, but did not take up arms against Germany. Accordingly, Roosevelt refused to reinstate Lindbergh to colonel status.
U.S. Air Force Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold, wrote in his post WWII autobiography, “Nobody gave us much useful information about Hitler’s Luftwaffe (air force) until Lindbergh came home in 1939.” His reputation as a “pacifist” made it easy for him to gain access to enemy air power.
In late 1940 Lindbergh became spokesman of the non-interventionist America First Committee, soon speaking to overflow crowds at Madison Square Garden and Chicago’s Soldier Field, with millions listening by radio. He argued emphatically that America had no business attacking Germany.
In 1941, Roosevelt wrote to Secretary of War Henry Stimson: “When I read Lindbergh’s (recent) speech I felt it could not have been better put if it had been written by Goebbels (Hitler’s propaganda minister) himself.”
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Lindbergh sought to be recommissioned in the Air Corps, but the request was denied.
Unable to take on an active military service, Lindbergh offered his services as a consultant to Ford and United Aircraft. As a technical adviser with Ford he was heavily involved in B-24 production. With United Aircraft, he persuaded the company to send him as a technical advisor to the Pacific Theater.
After World War II, Lindbergh served as a consultant to the Air Force and Pan American World Airways.
In 1954, on the recommendation of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lindbergh was commissioned a brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. That year he served on a Congressional advisory panel that recommended the site of the United States Air Force Academy.
To top off an already unbelievable full life, beginning in 1957, Lindbergh had lengthy sexual relationships with three unmarried German women while still married to Anne. He fathered seven children among the three mistresses.
Ten days before he died, Lindbergh wrote to each imploring them to maintain the utmost secrecy and all three managed to keep their affairs secret even from their own children for nearly a decade after his death.
The children did not know the true identity of their father, but one of the daughters discovered snapshots and 150 love letters from Lindbergh to her mother. After his American daughter, Brigitte, and Anne had both died, DNA tests in 2003 confirmed Lindbergh had fathered all of the children.
Lindbergh died Aug. 26, 1974, at his home in Maui, Hawaii. He is buried near the remote village of Hana on Maui.