Edward Vernon Rickenbacker (1890-1973) was the leading US combat pilot during World War I. Prior to his military service, he was an internationally known race car driver, winning plenty of championships and setting a world speed record.

He entered the US Army in 1917 and was assigned as a driver for the staff of General John Pershing and drove for Colonel Billy Mitchell, a strong advocate for military air power during a time when tanks replacing horses was a radical idea. Mitchell was instrumental in getting Rickenbacker out of the driver’s seat and into the pilot’s seat, and Rickenbacker became a fighter pilot with the 94th Aero Pursuit Squadron. During the war, Rickenbacker shot down 22 enemy planes and 4 enemy balloons, which gained him the Distinguished Service Cross, the French Croix de Guerre, and the Congressional Medal of Honor. He wrote about his war experiences in Fighting the Flying Circus (1919).

After the war, he entered the business world, working with or heading up Cadillac, American Airways, North American Aviation, and Eastern Air Lines, the latter he was president of from 1938 to 1959.

During World War II, Secretary of War Henry Stimson sent Rickenbacker to inspect Pacific Ocean airbases. Over the Pacific, Rickenbacker’s plane got lost and crashed when it ran out of fuel. The survivors spent three weeks on life rafts before they were picked up, an ordeal which he wrote about in Seven Came Through (1943).

He published his autobiography in 1967.

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