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Plymouth Rock Foundation’s E-News – May, 2012
by Dr. Paul Jehle, Executive Director

Lessons from the Spirit of St. Louis

charlesOne pilot, one plane, one mission and one historic flight May 20-21, 1927 from New York to Paris made Charles Lindberg famous. However, he was the least likely candidate for such fame, and he didn’t like the attention. He flew not for fame or the for the prize money to be the first to cross the Atlantic. He flew to advance aviation as a service to mankind.

Born on February 4, 1902 in Detroit, Michigan, he grew up on a farm near Little Falls, Minnesota. His father, Charles, Sr., served as a Congressman from Minnesota from 1907 to 1917, and his mother, Evangeline, was a teacher.

Growing up, Charles demonstrated an exceptional ability in mechanics. Though entering the University of Wisconsin to study engineering, he was more interested in the budding field of aviation, and left after two years, becoming a “barnstormer”, a pilot doing daredevil stunts at shows. In 1924 he enlisted in the United States Army as a reserve pilot and in 1925 graduated from flight school first in his class.

He was hired by the Robertson Aircraft Corporation of St. Louis to fly the mail between St. Louis and Chicago. He was a cautious and capable pilot, conscientious to get the mail delivered in a timely fashion, and loyal to his company to do his work well. One day he thought of competing to be the first pilot to fly from New York to Paris nonstop. Raymond Orteig, a New York City Hotel owner, offered $25,000 as a prize in 1919, and by 1927, no one had yet accomplished the feat.

Charles Lindberg was a man of character. He was also a man of detail. It was his character of faithfulness, loyalty and devotion to do a job well and to bless his employers that made his attention to detail a blessing. Another individual interested merely in fame and fortune would use his talents in a different fashion. His competitors, attempting to reach Paris or fly from Paris to New York, prepared to fly big planes, with multi-pilots and consequently a huge budget.

Charles was different. He planted his vision with several businessmen in St. Louis who knew him well and would invest in his character. After investigating various options, he sought out the Ryan Corporation, a small company in San Diego, who would build a plane for this project. Due to his self-less demeanor, the entire budget would run just under $10,000 – and Charles sought no fame or fortune for himself. The money, if he won, would go toward aviation – not in his own pocket. In essence, a plane was built as an extension of Lindberg himself. Furthermore, he flew solo, in a small plane, with no excess weight, an extended wing span, and plenty of extra fuel. In the Spirit of St. Louis he wrote: plane

“My cockpit is small, and its walls are thin; but inside this cocoon I feel secure, despite the speculations of my mind. It makes an efficient, tidy home… flying in it is like living in a hermit’s mountain cabin…”

Lindberg, in his 33 and a third hour flight from New York to Paris, recorded each hour with precision that would help aviators for years to come. He battled with sleep and frequently thought, not of himself, but of all those individuals that made his flight possible. He was a true scientist, an inventor who launched out in faith on the laws God put in creation. His plane now hangs in the Smithsonian Institute in DC.

“It’s hard to be an agnostic up here in the Spirit of St. Louis, aware of the frailty of man’s devices, a part of the universe between its earth and stars. If one dies, all this goes on existing in a plan so perfectly balanced, so wonderfully simple, so incredibly complex that it’s far beyond our comprehension – worlds and moons revolving; planets orbiting on suns; suns flung with apparent recklessness through space. Infinite detail of its matter – the outer star, the inner atom. And man conscious of it all – a worldly audience to what if not to God?

When Lindberg arrived in Paris, he became famous. Swarmed by tourists, his plane nearly broke apart from those wanting souvenirs. It was his character that kept him on a clear and concise course. He was shocked by those who nearly worshipped him. After his historic flight, Lindberg became an ambassador for aviation, touring America and Latin America. On his visit to Mexico, he met Anne Morrow, the daughter of the U.S. ambassador. They were married in 1929. He taught her to fly and they continued inspiring people throughout the nation in many ways.

On March 1, 1932, Charles and Anne’s son, Charles August, who was 20 months old, was kidnapped from their home in New Jersey. Though a ransom note was found and a sum demanded, the body of their son was found ten weeks later. Who could have been behind this? No one knows for sure, but Lindbergh’s opposition to World War II (until Pearl Harbor) and America’s changing foreign policy, along with his exposure of alien philosophies in our Government, may have played a role. In spite of all this, Lindbergh was active throughout his life in guiding the development of aviation.

So what lessons do we learn from Lindberg? First, God works through individuals. Whatever God wants to have you do begins in the chamber of your own heart! Second, let your work be an extension of your life. What you do will be a reflection of who you are. Third, there is a cost to standing up for what is right. All of Lindberg’s fame could not overcome the opposition to his stand for righteousness and America’s original formula for self-government. He paid a dear price, but the results of his life still bless us, for when I fly today I ponder these lessons – especially in the month of May.