Unfortunately, we live in an era where heroes are suspect. Larger-than-life figures like Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln have been deconstructed and put in their place by professors and writers, and it doesn’t look like this trend will be over anytime soon.
There are also heroes who do themselves in, with no help from their audience.
One doesn’t have to wait until they’re dead and gone to hear about their sins and mistakes, because their fall from glory takes place during their own lifetimes. Such was the case of Charles Lindbergh.
In 1927, Charles Lindbergh was the first person to fly non-stop and solo across the Atlantic Ocean. The 27’ plane he flew can be seen at the Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Airport, where it seems much too small to have made the 3600 mile journey. The flight lasted 33 1/2 hours and during that time, the 25-year old Lindbergh flew from New York to Paris with a few bottles of water and some sandwiches. He had to fight to stay awake and there were times, he wrote later, when his plane was barely 10’ above the waves of the Atlantic. When he landed at the Le Bourget airport outside of Paris, the cheering crowds nearly trampled the skinny young man as he climbed out of his airplane.
He won a $25,000 prize for his historic feat, which at that time, was enough money to make him rich. He married a woman he loved and he was adored everywhere he went, with ticker tape parades, postage stamps in his honor, and endless awards. Then, the young couple endured a terrible tragedy. Their baby son was kidnapped from their home and murdered. The “crime of the century” as it was called, meant that now the grieving Lindberghs were in a limelight that was unendurable for them.
They moved to England to escape and have some privacy. During their stay abroad, Lindbergh became an isolationist, opposing any U.S. involvement in the growing storm that became World War II. He made several visits to Nazi Germany, and was enamored with their military and air force. He seemed to admire Hitler, who took it upon himself to award Lindbergh an Iron Cross complete with decorative swastikas. Lindbergh gave speeches that were anti-Semitic, and by 1940, appeared to be an apologist for the whole Nazi regime. Soon, he was criticized and ridiculed in the U.S.. Even Lindbergh’s home town in Minnesota took his name off the water tower. When Lindbergh returned from abroad, there was no hero’s welcome awaiting him.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Lindbergh changed his mind. He volunteered in the military and flew 50 combat missions in the Pacific. Although he threw himself into the war effort, he never recovered his reputation or regained his status with the American public.
F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, “Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.” One of the most published photo’s of Lindbergh shows the thin young man with the shy smile after he had just completed the record-breaking flight that would change people’s perceptions about what a single individual could accomplish. With his luminous and inspiring flight succeeded by his spectacular fall from grace, Lindbergh wrote his own tragedy.
Donna Evers, firstname.lastname@example.org, is the broker and owner of Evers & Co. Real Estate Inc., and a devoted student of Washington area history.