Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr.
by Allen E. Roberts
THOUSANDS in France watched breathlessly as the tiny speck in the sky grew larger and larger. They cheered wildly as the small monoplane made a perfect landing on the flying field in Paris, France. The lines of police and soldiers were shattered as the screaming spectators ran and stumbled to welcome the hero of the hour — "The Lone Eagle" — the man who had dared to fly solo from the new world to the old over the ever treacherous Atlantic Ocean.
A dirt-streaked, weary, yet jubilant Charles Augustus Lind- bergh, Jr., grinned from the tiny cockpit of The Spirit of St. Louis. Part of the crowd of 25,000 lifted him from his single-engine plane. It represented the ultimate triumph and the culmination of months of determined effort. It was the fulfillment of Lindbergh's ambitious dream. The time was 10:24 P.M.; the date, May 21, 1927.
"Well, I made it," beamed "Lucky Lindy" as the crowd at Le Bourget Field continued to give the exhausted flyer a hero's welcome. "My greatest job was to stay awake," he said. "It was an unusual experience..."
An unusual experience, indeed! Without radio or parachute he had flown 3600 miles to become the first man to fly the Atlantic non-stop. And he did it in a small plane built especially for him in only 60 days by the Ryan Aeronautical Company of San Diego, California. He had proven the potential of the airplane as a practical means of transportation. He also showed what a few suspected-he was an aviation genius.
Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr., was born in Detroit, Michigan, on February 4, 1902. His early years were spent in Little Falls, Minnesota, where his father was a politician. There Charles attended school, but only spasmodically. Because of a peculiar law, he was able to receive his diploma in 1918. He wanted to enlist in the Army Air Corps, but at the insistence of mother, he enrolled in the University of Wisconsin. He stayed there just over a year. His interests concerned automobiles, machinery, guns, and motorcycles.
He abhorred smoking, drinking, social activities, and girls.
He said goodbye to his mother when he was 20 and on March 22, 1922, joined a flying school conducted by the Nebraska Aircraft Company in Lincoln. He invested $500 in flying lessons. He was a natural. After only seven hours of instruction, he was qualified enough to join a barnstorming and stunt team as a handyman, mechanic, wingwalker, and pilot. He became known as "Daredevil Lindbergh," the man who was able to hang by his teeth from a wing.
He enrolled as a flying cadet in the U.S. Army in 1924. Out of the class of 103, 18 passed the course, and Lindbergh was at the head of the graduates. He was commissioned a second lieutenant. Later he became an airmail pilot, and in this capacity he was forced to make four emergency parachute jumps.
On April 15, 1926, Lindbergh made the first air mail flight from Chicago to St. Louis. Then he began dreaming of being the first to make a non-stop trans-Atlantic flight. Time was important. Others were planning the same thing. Among them was Admiral Richard E. Byrd, a member of Kane Lodge No. 454, F.&A.M., of New York. (Byrd did cross the Atlantic in 1927, after flying over the North Pole in 1926.)
Lindbergh needed financial backing if he was to be able to enter the "race" for the $25,000 prize offered by Raymond Orteig. He sought help from Robertson Aircraft of St. Louis, and was hired as chief pilot. In St. Louis he was able to find supporters and there was formed "The Spirit of St. Louis Organization."
In St. Louis Lindbergh found another "spirit." He applied to Keystone Lodge No. 243, A.F.&A.M. for the degrees in Freemasonry. His petition was approved. On June 9, 1926 he was Initiated an Entered Apprentice; Passed to the Degree Of Fellowcraft on October 20, 1926; and Raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason on December 15, 1926. He later became a member of St. Louis Chapter No. 22, National Sojourners.
As time went by, Lindbergh's frustration grew. It appeared others would beat him to the "prize." But a series of misfortunes plagued those who might have won. Finally, he found the Ryan Aeronautical Company willing to build a plane to his specifications. In February, 1927, he traveled to San Diego to personally supervise the building of "The Spirit of St. Louis."
It was built. On May 10, 1927, Lindbergh left San Diego, stopped at St. Louis, then landed at Curtis Field, Long Island, New York. He had established another record. He had flown from coast to coast in a mere 21 hours and 20 minutes.
At 7:52 A.M. on May 20, 1927, The Spirit of St. Louis took off from Roosevelt Field, New York. Thirty-three and one-half hours later he landed near Paris, France. His average speed was a remarkable 107.5 miles per hour. His altitude varied from 10,000 feet to 10 feet above the water.
This memorable saga of courage, ability, and faith has been recorded many times. It was retold many more times during the 50th Anniversary of Lindbergh's daring and skillful feat.
There are stories not generally known, however. T. Claude Ryan designed "The Spirit of St. Louis." While with the Ryan Aeronautical Company, Ryan said he was handed a telegram that read: "Can you build airplane capable of flying New York to Paris non-stop with a whirlwind engine?" It was signed by the airmail contract firm for which Lindbergh worked. If Lindbergh had signed it, Ryan said he would have thrown it in the trash.
Ryan needed the business, so he said he did some calculating. To his amazement he found by modifying a mail plane, and giving it longer wings, it could be done. He wired Lindbergh to tell him he could do it.
Ryan said this about Lindbergh: "He was 25. Just a kid, full of enthusiasm. He talked St. Louis bankers and businessmen into putting up the money, and he stayed and watched every move that was made."
Lindbergh asked Ryan what his chances of flying the Atlantic were. "I figured he had less than a 50-50 chance of making it, but improved the percentage for his sake. I told him I thought he a 75 percent chance of making it. And Lindbergh replied: 'I figured.' He was perfectly willing to put his life on line on a 75-25 percent chance."
Receptions and honors followed quickly. The French government acclaimed him. He was presented with civilian and military honors. He was cheered and honored in Brussels. He was received by the King of England, decorated, then given a citywide welcome.
Lindbergh was brought back to the United States aboard the U.S.S. Memphis. He was greeted by President Coolidge and presented with the Distinguished Flying Cross. Other citations were numerous. Miles of marching men, flying flags, and bands joined him in the most famous of New York's "confetti parades."
The solo Atlantic crossing had made Lindbergh wealthy and famous, but he didn't rest on these laurels. He continued to work to build the image of aviation. He made a spectacular tour by air of 75 American cities. One of these cities was St. Louis. There he was greeted by the members of his Masonic Lodge.
From the records of Keystone Lodge No. 243 comes the account of the "Lindbergh Night." It took place on February 15, 1928, and will long be remembered by those Freemasons who were not yet born. Those who were there passed along to those who came later the triumph of that evening.
More than 300 Masons were present, including Grand Master Anthony F. Ittner, when the Lodge opened at 7:30 P.M. Because it wasn't certain that Lindbergh could be present, the Master Mason Degree was conferred by "The Boosters," a highly acclaimed ritualistic team.
Charles Lindbergh did make it and was escorted into the Lodge. The Master warmly greeted this distinguished member, related with pride many of Lindbergh's accomplishments, and praised him for his service to his fellowman.
After the applause had diminished, the Grand Master added his welcome and presented Lindbergh with an engrossed Gold Card — Keystone Lodge No. 243 had made the hero of the occasion a Life Member. Then a short recess was called to allow those in attendance to greet their world-famous member.
A Past Grand officer who was present on that occasion told John Black Vrooman that Lindbergh had one request to make. His hand was sore and he asked that they please touch him on the shoulder so his hand might have a rest. The men couldn't resist the temptation to shake his hand, so in desperation Lindbergh stepped behind the Secretary's desk for "protection."
Soon after this reception, Lindbergh made an air tour of Central and South America. He must have been welcomed by Freemasons along the way, because Keystone Lodge received a letter from Lodge Libertad No. 20 of the Gran Logia de la Republica Dominicana dated April 10, 1928:
"Dear Brothers: In this same mail we are sending a picture of the act of investing Brother CHARLES A. LINDBERGH, of that Lodge with the honor of Honorary Member of our Lodge Libertad No. 20.
"The great miracle of approaching two worlds was reserved to the youthful son of that Lodge. But we are contemplating now the greater miracle of the permanent fraternal relations between Lodges of this country and those of the country from which the King of the Air came."
Lindbergh became a consultant to the Guggenheim Aeronautical Foundation. Later he joined Pan Am.
On May 27, 1929, Lindbergh married Anne Morrow. In an effort to protect their privacy, he built a home in Hopewell, New Jersey. It was from there that their 20 month old son, Charles, was kidnaped and murdered in March, 1932. This event changed their lives. To what extent no one will ever know. But it did cause them to flee to England in search of peace.
Lindbergh, by invitation of the United States Embassy in Germany, visited that country in May, 1936. He had a first-hand look at the Nazi war machine, and understood its implications as perhaps few could. Two years later he suggested it wouldn't be wise for unprepared France and England to oppose the Hitlerites at this time." The resulting turmoil caused him to resign as colonel; he won the anger of Franklin D. Roosevelt, another Freemason.
After Pearl Harbor was bombed, Lindbergh offered his services to his country. Roosevelt turned him down, and put pressure on the aviation industry to keep him out. Henry Ford, a member of Palestine Lodge No. 357, Detroit, and who disliked Roosevelt, a member of Holland Lodge No. 8, New York City, gave Lindbergh a job as a technical consultant.
In 1944, as a civilian, Lindbergh flew at least 50 combat missions in the Pacific theater. After the war ended he stayed out of political controversies. He worked with the Army as a troubleshooter, and would accept no pay. Later he turned to ecology.
Late in 1973 Lindbergh learned he was suffering from terminal lymphatic cancer. He returned to Maui, Hawaii, where at 7:15 in the morning of August 26, 1974, he died.
At the age of 72 he left this earth, but the accomplishments of Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr., Master Mason, aviator, scientist, husband and father will live on.