After Lindbergh's triumphant return from Paris, his plane was sent to the Smithsonian Institution but it almost didn't get here, it turns out.
Maj. Gen. Howard Davidson, retired from the Air Force, observed at a Library of Congress lunch yesterday (the whole thing taped for the archives) they told him to get the plane down to Washington. Lindbergh completed hi 33 1/2 hour flight 50 years ago today.
"We put it on a truck and were going merrily down the highway - they said 2 a.m! was the best time - when the damned wheels caught fire. Fortunately we saw a farmhouse and got a bucket of water - the farmer was surprised, but we got the fire out. Then we hardly got started good again when it caught fire a second time. Then we got a fire truck to accompany us. I often wondered what would happen to Major Davidson's career if burnt up the Spirit of St. Louis."
Dr. Daniel Boorstin, librarian of Congress, and his wife, Ruth, held the lunch for a dozen or so men who had known Lindgberh, some of them quite well.
"i was operations officer at the time of the flight," the general went on, "and Lindbergh wanted to know weather conditions over the Atlantic. I said an unfortunate fellow had arranged for ships at sea to report in to New York their weather and position - I say unfortunate because he was flying up from NOrfolk and his plane turned over - didn't do any damage but it dropped him head first into some mud where he smothered.
"Well, the weather reports were still coming in so I told Lindbergh they were available from - what was that weather man's name? I have forgotten ('Kimball' cried a couple of other guests) - yes, that's it, Kimball.
"Kimball said to me, 'Why I cannot take the responsibility for this yound man's life, what if the wearher has changed?"
"I said, 'You don't have to worry. If your weather reports are wrong. I don't think Lindbergh will protest."
When Lindbergh was flown to New York for his ticker-tape parade, Lt. Gen. Ira Eaker (USAF. Ret.) flew him up, and waited with him on the amphibian while the boat came out to pick him up.
"He said he sure wishec he was going to spend the day flying my plane, a new type to him, instead of facing the glory that awaited him in town."
Thomas Corcoran, the New Dealer was a clerk for Supreme Court Association Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes and was in his office the day of Lindbergh's flight:
"Justice Holmes was a great believer in American heroes - he understood the need for them. At that time we had just been through the Teapot Dome scandals, it was a very bad time. Justice Holmes felt it keenly.
"Mrs. Holmes used to speak of the Justice playing with his toy, despair. But she knew how to bring out of it.
"She would say Washington was a just a land speculator trying to build values or she would say Lincoln was a boor and beastly to his wife. Justice Holmes would always rise to the bait and deliver his lecture on the danger of derogating heroes.
"Well the day of Lindbergh's flight, no work was done in the Supreme Court. Justice Holmes kept saying he hoped no harm would come to that young man.
"After Lindbergh landed, the Justice greeted Mrs. Holmes with "There now, what did I tell you about american heroes last night?"
Astronaut Michael Collins, now director of the Air and Space Museum, said a reporter asked him if Lindbergh was a hero of his as a boy. "No," he said, "my mind was on other things hen. Lindbergh is a hero to me as a man." To Collins' surprise, Lindbergh offered to write a foreword modesty that "it was as if he were in to Collins' book, and did it with such my employ and I was doing him a favor.
Capt. Roger Pineau, director of the Navy Museum, said once Lindbergh's own notes failed him, but he remembered - this was many years after the flight - he had scribbled some calculations on the inside if the cockpit of the Spirit of St. Louis. So he came to Washington and the Smithsonian got a ladder set up for him, and Lindbergh crawled back into his old plane. And found the calculations right where he had scrawled them in mid-Atlantic.
John D.J. Moore, former ambassador to Ireland, said the Irish President De Valera kept a picture of himself standing beside Lindbergh right on his desk.
"He said he had always sworn he wouldn't fly unless Lindbergh took him up, so one day when he was working on routes in Ireland, Lindbergh did. DeValera was determined to wear a flight suit.The only thing that would fit him was one of Lindbergh's own. He had himself photographed in it with Lindbergh at his side, and kept it always."
In Paris, said the French ambassador, Jacques Kosciusko-Morizet, there was a kid at that Ecole Normale Supericure who looked just little Lindbergh. After the flight, some students announced that Lindbergh would speak at the school, and as you can imagine a great crowd gathered. The false Lindbergh stood on a balcony and waved, and gave a brief address in flawless French, with what he hoped was an American accent. Everybody applauded and felt very gratified, and nobody knew it wasn't Lindbergh.
A former director of the National Acronautics and Space Administration, James C. Fletcher, said Lindbergh once attended bya lofty untellectual gathering where a presidential commission was considering a response to foreign ballistic missiles. Everybody was a mathematician or worse. Lindbergh hesitated to speak, Fletcher said, but finally offered advice: "Go with what you have (indeveloping your program) and keep it simple." This, Fletcher said, became the guiding policy.
After still others had spokens, Land Lindbergh, the flier's son, said the family had been told that if ever there was any question where the Lindbergh papers were to go, it was the Librabry of Congress.
"But I have one request. Among those papers - my father kept everything - are my old report cards." He had just as soon those disreputable documents not become enshrined anywhere.
Boorstin said gravely that such an irregular request to seize part of an important collection could not be entertained.
Young Lindbergh signed off then, "My mother said she wished she could be here she was attending ceremonies in New York). She said of all the dinners and ceremonies, this would be the most moving (there had been films and sound tracks of Lindbergh as well as reminisences) and interesting, and she was right."