The Lindbergh Kidnapping Hoax
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Photo: Swastika Inside Spinner Cap of "Spirit of St Louis"
The Making of a Hero:
What really happened seventy-five years ago, after
Lindbergh landed at Le Bourget
by Raymond H Fredette
reprinted from Air Power History
Fredette, the foremost Lindbergh scholar, presents a fascinating and persuasive new interpretation of what really happened after Charles Lindbergh landed at Le Bourget France after completing his historic trans-Atlantic flight.
The dramatic story of Charles Lindbergh's arrival in Paris after a suspenseful flight of 33 1/2 hours from New York on May 21, 1927, has often been told, beginning with the dispatches of the reporters whose do-or-die assignment was to interview him as soon as he landed. They all failed. Moments after he touched down on the grassy field at Le Bourget, the flier disappeared.
The press found him hours later at the American Embassy in the personal custody of the ambassador, Myron T Herrick. Lindbergh, so the story goes, had been rescued from the crowd that had bolted out on the field and engulfed his plane as he landed.
In his book about the flight, The Spirit of St. Louis, Lindbergh credits two French airmen, he identifies only as Detroyat and Delage, for saving him from the mob. After being hustled into a hangar, he recalls he was later taken to the military side of the field at the order of a French officer, Major Weiss. While there he was visited by Ambassador Herrick who decided on the spot to take him to the embassy as his guest. In light of many other accounts of his tumultuous reception, Lindbergh's own version in a brief afterword omits many telling details. But even when he could not be completely candid, he felt compelled to be very specific. "We passed Dugny, Stains, Saint Denis, and entered through the Saint Ouen gate," he remembers of his ride from Le Bourget "over bumpy side roads" into the city.
Lindbergh was on his way to achieving an incandescent fame that even today, after man has conquered space and landed on the moon, has yet to fade completely from the popular mind. In explaining this phenomenon, no little credit is due to Ambassador Herrick. At that pivotal moment in the pilot's life, Herrick sheltered him, groomed him and, after giving him a crash course in modesty and tact, presented him to the world with all the prestige he commanded as an American ambassador much beloved by the French. Such was his popularity that they likened him to Benjamin Franklin, our envoy to France at the time of the American Revolution.
Still handsome and energetic at over seventy years of age, Herrick had previously served as ambassador to France early in World War I. In September 1914, when swiftly advancing German troops threatened to take Paris, the French government and the entire diplomatic corps were evacuated to Bordeaux, except Herrick. He insisted on staying behind to protect American citizens
as well as the art treasures of the capital. He vowed he would raise the Stars and Stripes over the Louvre, and go out to meet the Germans personally if they marched in. Although Paris did not fall, the French never forgot the ambassador's act of defiance.
The flight of an American plane from New York to Paris in May 1927 struck Herrick as yet another alarming intrusion. If successful, he feared it would have a "lamentable effect" on the already strained relations between the two countries. Earlier that month, two French fliers, Charles Nungesser and Francois Coli, had taken off from Le Bourget for New York. Their success
would have won them the $25,000 Orteig Prize for the first non-stop flight between Paris and New York. Some French newspapers even published joyful accounts of the arrival of the two airmen at the Battery in lower Manhattan.
When the reports proved false, and it became clear that the French plane had disappeared, the mood in Paris turned from exultation to anger. The press accused the U.S. Weather Bureau of having withheld weather data in favor of the transatlantic fliers who were poised to take off from New York. American tourists were jostled on the Champs Elysees, and a hostile crowd reportedly had torn down a U.S. flag outside an American newspaper office.
Herrick sent an urgent cable to Washington warning that no American plane should attempt a transatlantic flight "until an appropriate time has elapsed." The ambassador, as had everyone else, expected Commander Richard E. Byrd would be the first to leave aboard his trimotor, the America. With his considerable financial banking, Byrd was seen as the most likely winner of the so-called Atlantic Race.
"Who in the devil is Charles Lindbergh?" was the reaction in Paris as the news of his takeoff from New York was received. After the disappearance of Nungesser and Coli, his solo flight seemed all the more foolhardy. Herrick again cabled Washington for confirmation that "le fou volant" was indeed on his way, and then left the embassy to attend the championship tennis matches between French and American players at St. Cloud. When questioned by the press, he seemed uninterested in the American pilot no one seemed
to know. In truth, his flight in progress was just about the last straw for the ambassador. [IMAGE PHOTOGRAPH] Captioned as: Charles Lindbergh poses with a group of Ryan Air Lines personnel as the Spirit of SL Louis is fueled prior to the flight from San Diego, California to St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo courtesy of Air Force Magazine.)
Among his concerns was the pending execution of two Italian immigrants, Sacco and Vanzetti, in a Massachusetts prison. Convicted of killing a payroll guard in a holdup, the pair had been the object of violent demonstrations in Europe; many believed they were being persecuted for their political views. At the time of the trial, a package addressed to Herrick had seriously
injured his valet when it exploded as he opened it. The ambassador was now receiving threatening letters, warning that he would also die if Sacco and Vanzetti were executed. His residence, as well as the embassy, were under heavy police guard. Herrick was also anxious about a convention of the American Legion to be held in Paris that summer. The Legionnaires were known to be rowdy, and some Americans residing in the city were arranging to leave during the event because of the tense anti-American atmosphere
Although Herrick insisted he had "no plan of any kind regarding Lindbergh," he virtually took over the reception for him at Le Bourget. Weeks earlier, Commander Byrd's sponsors had sent an advance man to Paris to work with a FrancoAmerican committee that was organizing a grand welcome. These arrangements were quickly revamped in the event Lindbergh made it across the Atlantic.
As one embassy insider noted later, it was felt he might be "placed in a situation here where one remark could have international complications....
The revised plan called for keeping Lindbergh away from reporters until he could be primed on what to say, so as not to offend French sensibilities after the loss of Nungesser and Coli. On landing, he was to taxi up the airport terminal between two rows of policemen reinforced by troops. Once there, he would be escorted directly from his plane to the upper level of the terminal for a brief welcoming ceremony. Admission to a fenced-in area in front of the building was to be limited to individuals with "complete official documents," which did not include reporters.
These arrangements did not concern the Paris bureau chief of The New York Times, Edwin L. James, who had plans of his own. Before Lindbergh left New York, his St. Louis backers had negotiated a contract with the paper for the exclusive rights to his story. The Times' managing editor, Frederick Birchall, then cabled James "to isolate" Lindbergh the moment he landed before other reporters could reach him. As James recalled, his "elaborate preparations" included "a fine automobile ready to bring the aviator back to the capital to give his own story. ... Oh, it was a wonderful plan."
Back home, the editor of the Chicago Tribune somehow learned of the scheme, and he in turn promptly notified his own Paris bureau chief, Henry Wales. A crusty veteran of the city's press corps, Wales was not about to lose out to a competitor on the Lindbergh story. "I could see his arrival," he indignantly recalled. "Jimmy James and his staff would take possession of Mr. Lindbergh-kidnap him, if necessary; hide him in some hotel; milk his story to the last detail. With the yarn safely in type, they'd invite the rest of us to meet the hero...." Wales was on close terms with Herrick, having written speeches for him, and he alerted the ambassador who acted quickly to beat James at his own game with the help of French officials. As William Shirer of Berlin Dairy fame, then a cub reporter working with Wales, notes in his memoirs, "the police and Major Pierre Weiss, commandant of Le Bourget military field ... worked out a lastminute plan with Ambassador Herrick for a reception." Major Weiss actually commanded only the bomber unit of the 34th Aviation Regiment, that was based on the opposite side of the field from the civilian air terminal. The major's help was key to a plan to "rescue" Lindbergh even before James and his reporters could get to him. Early that morning, a Saturday, Weiss was observed busily making preparations and giving orders to his men for the arrival of the American pilot. As ensuing events would show, they were to seize him right out of the cockpit as he landed, and keep him in custody at least overnight. By that time, he could be coached by Herrick before meeting the press. With the crowd kept at a distance, a bogus flier, appearing extremely fatigued, even on the verge of collapse,would appear briefly at the air terminal. It was arranged to have a doctor,
an American, on hand with his kit and a blanket roll. "He'll naturally be exhausted when he arrives," anticipated the physician. "I positively won't let him do any talking tonight." Seemingly uninvolved in all this, Herrick attended the tennis matches at St. Cloud for a second day. Late that afternoon, a messenger from the embassy rushed up to him in the president's box and handed him a telegram. Lindbergh had been sighted over Ireland. On receiving the news, the ambassador and his party were observed leaving for Paris "in disarray" "I hardly even dared to expect his arrival," Herrick later disclaimed. "I merely went to the flying field on the chance that he would be successful in his attempt and I wanted to be on hand to congratulate him."
On arriving at Le Bourget, Herrick realized he was facing a very difficult, if not impossible, situation. As word spread of the American flier making it safely across the Atlantic, thousands of Parisians clogged the roads leading to the airport. They crowded about the terminal and noisily filled the small restaurant inside. The police guarding the restricted reception area out front became so hard pressed that they accepted "any card that had your picture on it." Ambassador Herrick, at least, found himself in full command with all the assistance French authorities could provide. The crowd, the chief of the Paris police informed him, was the largest since "the peace parade. I'vesent for five hundred more police, Your Excellency." The Elyse Palace sent a military aide, Colonel Denain, to act on behalf of the French president, Gaston Doumer- gue, at the airport. "All help and courtesy will be extended to Mr. Lindbergh," announced the Foreign Office. ..."Sufficient police will be on hand to guard him against any demonstration." Lindbergh landed after dark shortly after 10:20 PM., settling softly like an exhausted carrier pigeon as he neared the ground. In his book, The Spirit of St. Louis, he complains about the poor lighting and "jolting into blackness" until he finally stopped, and then swung around "to taxi back toward the floodlights and the hangars." He never reached them. Once he was safely on the ground, some lights were purposely turned off and he was beaconed away by military searchlights to a spot a half-mile from the terminal where Major Weiss and his soldiers were waiting to pounce on him.
According to the flier's account, his first words on landing were, "Are there any mechanics here?" Ironically enough, the man who claimed to have been first to reach the plane was a mechanic by the name of Fernand Sarrazin. No ordinary mechanic, he was, in fact, the chief of aircraft maintenance for C.I.D.N.A. (Compagnie Internationale de Navigation Aerienne), an airline based at Le Bourget. Sarrazin was obviously out there to take charge of the plane; it was to one of the company's hangars that the Spirit of St. Louis was taken later that evening
Without disclosing why he did so, Sarrazin said he walked out of his hangar onto the field at about ten o'clock, the time Lindbergh was expected to arrive. He watched as the American landed and taxied toward him. As he recalled, he barely had time to shout, "Ici Paris, Le Bourget," before some soldiers pulled up in automobiles. "They got a hold of Lindbergh, or rather I should say they kidnapped him, so quickly was this done without any regard for the safeguarding of the plane. Consequently, I remained with the machine." By some similar coincidence, Hank Wales, Herrick's informant about the Times plan, and Shirer were also out in that particular area of the field.
They saw the flier touch down in the half-- light, and then turn to taxi in their direction. "By luck," wrote Shirer without explaining their good fortune, "he stopped a few yards from where Wales and I were standing." Wales recognized Major Weiss in full uniform shouting to Lindbergh to cut his engine, while his men "were pulling and twisting at the door to the cabin of the slowly moving plane." The flier's first words, said Wales, were not about mechanics, but an admonition to the soldiers as the door swung open: "Careful there; don't break it." Once the Spirit of St. Louis came to a full stop, Wales saw "the sergeants reach inside and seize Lindbergh."
Realizing he was about to be carried off, the flier reached out as far as he could and managed to slam the cabin door shut. About this time, James and two of his Times reporters reached the scene of the melee. They had gone out at dusk and walked along the police lines
stretching out from the terminal until they thinned out. Huddled together, they then waited behind the glare of a large flare for Lindbergh to arrive. After he landed, James and his party, unlike Wales and Shirer, had to run several hundred yards to reach the plane. "We could see he was struggling," James recalled, after Lindbergh was pulled from his cabin. "He fell to the ground once and then he was on the shoulders of a dozen men."
Lindbergh, in his book, makes no mention of the soldiers who descended on him like commandos. Instead, he remembers the surging crowd, fearing
it would do serious damage to the plane. "Within seconds my open windows were blocked with faces," he writes. Only after he "decided to get out
of the cockpit and try to find some English-speaking person, who would help me organize a guard to hold back the crowd," does he recall being
grabbed by "dozens of hands" as he emerged.
The thousands who had been waiting, many of them for hours, were puzzled on seeing the graywhite monoplane land in the shadows and then taxi away
from the terminal. The crowd may have sensed it would be denied seeing the American pilot, and the sight of the figures of James and his party
running toward the plane evidently sparked a stampede. A human wave crashed through "the very strongest fences, some seven feet high, with spikes on
the top," and rushed out on the open field. Looking over his shoulder, James saw "countless bobbing heads between us and the flares...."
The unexpected surge of the huge crowd gave credence to the story that Lindbergh's "rescue" was an impromptu affair; it also greatly complicated
the reception Herrick had planned at the terminal. As Wales described it, while Lindbergh was being "spirited into an army hangar, a bogus aviator
was rushed through the crowd to be presented to the Ambassador." The man acting as a double for Lindbergh was a Parisian haberdasher named Jean
Claude d'Ahetze. Although he did not look much like the American flier, he was tall and spoke some English. Standing by on the field when the plane
landed, he said he thought it was an incoming mail flight until he saw the words, "Spirit of St. Louis" on its nose.
Garbed in a leather jacket, the young Frenchman reached in through the open cockpit window and pulled Lindbergh's helmet off his head, even before
his plane came to a complete stop. Since he likely would be photographed, he needed an American-styled helmet that was different from French flying
gear. Conceivably, d'Ahetze could have tax- ied the Spirit of St. Louis to the terminal. Although not a pilot, he had served as an aviation mechanic
during the war.
Lindbergh effectively denies any such encounters with d'Ahetze, or with Sarrazin, the mechanic, not to mention Major Weiss who was observed shouting
to him to cut his engine (Coupez! Coupez!). "No one reached my plane," he said categorically, "until I had turned back toward the hangars, cut
the switches, and the wheels had stopped rolling." Lindbergh was much less certain as to what happened to his helmet. As he recalls in his book, "my
helmet had somehow gotten onto the head of an American reporter. Someone had pointed to him and called out, `There is Lindbergh! There is Lindbergh!'
The crowd had taken over the reporter and left me free."
In the confusion, d'Ahetze in his leather jacket and wearing the fliers helmet may himself have been mistaken for Lindbergh. In any event, he in
turn lost the helmet, which wound up on the head of Harry Wheeler, a young American in the crowd. Much as he tried to break loose, he was hoisted
up on the shoulders of a small group of men and carried away toward the airport terminal.
According to d'Ahetze the youth was taken for Lindbergh, having been "designated as such by some French officers who, in the meantime, cleverly concealed
the real Lindbergh." Herrick's own recollections were more consistent with the account of a "rescue," and a spontaneous one at that. A year or so
later, he said: "This man turned out to be a New York Herald reporter ... to whom Major Weiss had given the helmet with orders to take it to me.
This was done to deceive the crowd and get them clear of Lindbergh and his ship. The ruse succeeded, and it only goes to show how quickly aviators
have to think and act."
Tall and blond-haired, Wheeler certainly looked like Lindbergh, but he was not a reporter. He was a Brown University student on a summer tour
of Europe. His clothes torn and disheveled, he was still struggling as he was carried up to the upper level of the terminal where Herrick, clutching
a bouquet of red roses, and other officials were waiting to receive the hero. Describing the scene as one that provided "the only comedy of the
evening," William Shirer relates:
" `But I'm not Lindbergh, Mr. Ambassador,' he insisted.
`Of course you are,' Herrick replied, holding out the roses.
'I tell you, sir, I'm not Lindbergh,' the young man repeated.
`My name is Harry Wheeler. Everyone got confused because of this.' and
he held up the crumpled helmet...
`If you're not Lindbergh, then where is he?' the ambassador asked.
`Some French officers took him to a hangar on the other side of the field
while that crazy mob was almost killing me.'"
Although essentially correct, Shirer's account had to be written from hearsay, because no reporters were admitted to the upper level of the terminal.
He was also writing from hindsight because Wheeler had no way of knowing at the time where Lindbergh had been taken. As for Herrick, he hardly could
have expected the real Lindbergh to appear at the terminal. Confused by the switch of doubles, he was reassured when d'Ahetze arrived in the wake
of the small group that had brought in the American student. He informed Herrick that his "son" had landed and that he had seen the plane. Determined
not to be cheated out of his moment of glory, d'Ahetze then regained possession of the helmet.
"I opened the window and wild with joy showed the crowd Lindbergh's helmet," he recounted. "It was at that precise moment that I was mistaken for Lindbergh.
I wore a leather coat, my hair was tousled. The mob cheered me as surely no man was ever cheered. ...Finally, I realized the mistake, withdrew,
and gave Lindbergh's helmet to Ambassador Herrick."
[IMAGE PHOTOGRAPH] Captioned as: En route from Paris to London, Lindbergh
lands at Evers Aerodrome for a one-day visit in Brussels.
D'Ahetze never did say that he acted as a stand- in for Lindbergh. Obviously/not wanting to implicate Herrick, he claimed to have done little more than
appear at the window with the helmet. Yet, one eyewitness, John P. V Heinmuller, saw the entire charade carried out as planned.
Heinmuller, later president of the Longines-- Wittnauer Watch Company, was allowed on the upper level of the terminal as an official observer
of the National Aeronautic Association. He had hastily sailed for Europe fully expecting another entrant in the transatlantic race, Clarence Chamberlain,
flying the Columbia with the plane's owner, Charles Levine, as his passenger, would be the first to reach Paris. Instead, he arrived in the French capital
just in time to see Lindbergh land at Le Bourget. He had no reason to believe that the "tired flier" at the terminal was not Lindbergh.
"I was lucky to be admitted, through the aid of Comm. Weiss," Heinmuller wrote home four days later. "Only Lindbergh, the official physician [who
fully expected to find his patient in a state of complete exhaustion], and a few high officials were admitted to the upper floor....
After the physician had pronounced the flier's condition satisfactory, he was escorted secretly through a side door with a French military coat
worn over his flying suit to help hide his identity. The crowd outside, not knowing he had gone, kept calling for Lindbergh's appearance...."
Herrick's problem was to placate the crowd and persuade it to go home.
He sent his son, Parmely, out waving the helmet, and he also was mistaken for Lindbergh. Herrick himself then appeared and "offered the leather helmet
to the French people like a scalp." Finally, the lights in the terminal were turned off for a time to convince the crowd that Lindbergh had left.
D'Ahetze, at least, recorded his name for posterity in what was unquestionably the most momentous landing in aviation history. Officials of the Paris
Aero club were with Herrick at the terminal with a landing certificate, attesting to the flier's arrival at Le Bourget. The document was important
in laying claim to the Orteig Prize, but Lindbergh was not there to sign it. The officials were finally persuaded he had, indeed, landed upon being
shown his helmet with the label of its Boston manufacturer sewn inside. Acting as a proxy, d'Ahetze signed the certificate along with a few others,
as did Lindbergh the next day.
The French haberdasher, Herrick always insisted, was merely the man "who delivered to me Lindy's helmet," but he evidently felt obligated to him
for more than that act alone. A year later, the ambassador wrote to Lindbergh, on his behalf "What he would like," communicated Herrick, "is an autographed
picture of yourself and, in view of the fact that he gave me the means of verifying your landing that memorable evening, I take the liberty of
placing his request before you...."
D'Ahetze apparently did not get a picture. In 1933, when Lindbergh returned to Paris for the first time since his flight, the haberdasher appealed
directly to him by letter. Writing "in my poor language," he identified himself as "the first man who speak [sic] with you after your memorial
flying-thirty-three hours-when your spirit [plane] run in the grass at Le Bourget-21 May!! and I took your helmet on your head myself Do you remember...?"
Even in the case of d'Ahetze, Lindbergh was not inclined to respond to requests for autographed pictures.
D'Ahetze ended his letter by identifying himself as a "Friend of Michael Detroyat," a name that Lindbergh would come to know well. One of the two
acknowledged "rescuers," Detroyat had led the assault in getting the flier out of his cockpit. A sergeant who spoke some English, he was promoted
to lieutenant shortly thereafter. A skillful pilot, Detroyat met Lindbergh again in Europe in the thirties, and also in 1940, when he came to the
United States with a French mission seeking to purchase American warplanes.
So far as it can be determined, Detroyat never spoke for the record on what transpired that night at Le Bourget, nor did he question Lindbergh's
account when asked to read the manuscript of his book before its publication in 1953.
The other "rescuer," George Delage, was not a soldier, but Detroyat may have recruited him for his better command of English. A commercial pilot
based in England, he flew between London and Paris with a French airline, Air Union. Although Delage does not appear to have ever spoken for the
record either, he also believed he was owed a favor for his role at Le Bourget. Some two years later he wrote to the flier asking, "May I recall
to you the circumstances of our first meeting?" What Delage wanted was Lindbergh's help in getting employment as a pilot with some airline in
the States. Receiving no reply, he wrote Lindbergh six months later, again apparently to no avail.
Acting together, Detroyat and Delage took custody of Lindbergh after the soldiers pulled him out of his plane. As improbable as it was that two
English-speaking Frenchmen in that immense crowd should reach him at the same time, Lindbergh claims that is just what happened. "Two French aviators,"
he writes, "the military pilot Detroyat and the civil pilot Delage, found themselves close to me in the jam of people. ...I spoke no word of French;
my new friends but little English.... Lindbergh had little choice but to go along with them. "With arms solidly linked in mine," he continues, "I
began moving slowly, but unnoticed through the crowd." He does not say that his escorts sought to disguise his appearance. Lindbergh was made
to remove his flying suit, and Delage handed him his own Air Union jacket to put on.
If Lindbergh felt indignant about this, it was nothing compared to his concern about his plane. "I should not try to get back to it," he remembers
being told. "They were determined about thatthere was no mistaking their tones and gestures. They laughed and shook their heads as I protested,
and kept pointing to the car." Delage had a small Renault, which was much less conspicuous in driving the flier away than an army vehicle. As Lindbergh
recalls, they went to "a big hangar" where he "was taken to a small room on one side. My friends motioned me to a chair and put out most of the
lights-so I would not be discovered by the crowd."
Lindbergh's account corroborates the notion that he was rescued from the mob. It also raises the question of why, instead of hiding the flier, Delage
did not keep on driving beyond the airport to a place where he would be safe, such as a hotel, just as James of the Times had planned to do. In
any event, the stop at the hangar does give Lindbergh an opportunity to introduce Major Weiss, who up to this point is not mentioned in his narrative.
Detroyat left, the flier goes on, "to search for an officer of higher rank."
It appears the sergeant had some trouble finding one until "in the midst of the crowd, he came across Major Weiss. ...The Major could not believe
that I was sitting in a hangar's darkened room. `It is impossible,' he told Detroyat. `Lindbergh has just been carried triumphantly to the official
reception committee."' The incredulous major, the flier continues, came to the hangar with Detroyat, and "on seeing me insisted that I be taken
to his office on the military side of Le Bourget-about a mile away. So we climbed into the Renault again, and drove across the field. Then, it
was Major Weiss's turn to go out and search for higher officer."
After Detroyat and Delage had taken charge of Lindbergh at the plane, Weiss threw a cordon of police and soldiers around the machine until it could
be taken to Sarrazin's hangar. The major then joined Herrick and the other officials at the terminal. Had the reporters not seen him directing the
"rescue," no one would have been the wiser. When Weiss was summoned to the telephone, it could only have been Detroyat calling to inform him they
had arrived with Lindbergh at the military section of the field. D'Ahetze who happened to be standing nearby the phone at the terminal, confirms
in his account, "Commandant Weiss learned that Lindbergh was safe." In turn, he informed Herrick who decided he would like to see his "son" that
night, and the major immediately left to set up a meeting.
Colonel Denain, the military aide sent by the Elysee Palace, was also called to the phone at the terminal. This time, the eavesdropper was the Belgian
air attache serving in Paris, Baron Willy Coppens de Houthulst. A famous ace who had lost a leg in the war, Coppens was a colorful figure noted
for his devilish sense of humor. He also spoke English, which was perhaps one reason why he was at the terminal. "Yes, he has arrived, but we do
not know where he is," Coppens heard the colonel say. "I was waiting until I had seen him before telephoning. Please give my apologies to the President
... How did you find out?" Ah! Weiss. Yes, I see. North Block...."
Coppens kept his plane in a hangar in the North Block along with those of the bomber unit commanded by Weiss. Concluding that Lindbergh had been
taken there, the attache quickly left and drove across the field without lights. When he arrived at the rear of the hangar where Weiss had his office,
the attache ran into some soldiers guarding the entrance. Being in uniform,
he was allowed to go in. Lindbergh, he was told, was not in Weiss's office,
but in a tiny room at the end of a hallway. A soldier was posted at the
door. On seeing the tall, boyish American who had just flown the Atlantic,
Coppens was at a loss of words. Looking forlorn, the flier was still wearing
Delage's uniform jacket on which were pinned some military ribbons.
"I see you have the French Military Medal," Coppens jested in accented
English. "That's too wonderful!" Unsmiling, Lindbergh replied the jacket
did not belong to him, and added with some anger, "They have already taken
my helmet!" He then pulled a slip of paper from his wallet. On it was written
the name of a small Paris hotel. He asked Coppens about it, wondering "if
it might not be too expensive?" The flier had been told he would be met
on landing by Times reporters, but he was not one to leave anything to
chance. So far, he had been proven correct. He had yet to speak to correspondents
from the Times, or any other newspaper. Coppens was struck by Lindbergh's
cool composure, recalling that "his face-was it due to fatigue?-conveyed
no emotion whatsoever, neither joy nor enthusiasm."
Barely ten minutes after Coppens saw Lindbergh, there was some rushing
about in the hallway. Major Weiss was telling the soldiers that the American
ambassador was coming and to prepare for his arrival. The flier, Herrick
noted later, had been found only after "a diligent search. It was not until
one o'clock that we discovered him in a little adobe building on the far
side of the field with his rescuers."
Weiss escorted Lindbergh from his room and led him outside where a line
of soldiers had been hastily drawn up as an honor guard. They stiffened
to attention as a large, chauffeured car drove up with Herrick, Colonel
Denain, and a few other French officers inside. The ambassador undoubtedly
expected to find a grubby, oil-stained pilot barely able to stand from
fatigue. As it was, he was completely taken aback when he saw the fairhaired
youth waiting impassively with Weiss and the soldiers. Emerging from the
car, "the old man reached out and embraced his compatriot a la mode de
chez nous," observed Coppens. Visibly moved, Herrick was heard to mutter,
"A kid! He's just a kid!"
Lindbergh was much relieved to see the American ambassador. From the brusque treatment he had received, he was convinced he was in some sort of trouble.
He had explained to his French keepers who he was and showed them his passport. "I was a little worried about that, since I had no visa," he conceded.
"But I received mostly smiles and laughter in reply." Being made fun of was annoying, but all he could do "was just wait and let events develop."
"When I greeted him he handed me his three letters of introduction with a happy smile," recalled Herrick. "One [was] addressed to me, one to Mr.
Houghton [the U.S. envoy in London], and the third, I forgot to whom." Once inside, the ambassador was shown a room where the French "were making
up a cot for their guest." Chairs were brought in so they could sit down, but Lindbergh said he preferred to stand. "Thank you," he declined. "I
have been sitting." Herrick was taken by the dry-witted response. "I was so captured by his sense of humor, his smile and his general appearance,"
he went on, "that the thought then first occurred to me to ask him to become my guest at the embassy. ...I immediately took him by the hand and said:
`My boy, come with me; I am going to take you home and look after you.'
His face lighted up and he said:Are you?'"
The warm invitation was not unlike countless others the flier received
from farmers while barnstorming, or from Mr. Conkling, the kindly postmaster
of Springfield, Illinois, when the weather turned bad on the mail run to
Chicago. A homecooked meal and a wide bed in the spare room upstairs was
usually more comfortable, and cheaper, than staying in a hotel in town.
But that night at Le Bourget, it would have been better for Lindbergh if
he had stayed at the airport, and slept on the steel cot which the soldiers
were readying for him. Come morning, he could have made his own plans and
been on his way in a few days. The flier was about to become a pawn, and
his whole life would be changed to a degree far beyond the significance
of his solo ocean journey.
Major Weiss, who was quite prepared to keep Lindbergh at Le Bourget, delivered his prize to the American ambassador. The flier's biggest concern now was
his plane, and what had happened to it. As they were about to leave, Herrick recalls Lindbergh saying he wanted to go "fix the windows of my ship, for
these Frenchmen will not know how to do it. Before I could restrain him ... he dashed out." The flier tells a different story, stating "a discussion
in French followed" his request to see the plane. He says he was told not to worry. The Spirit of St. Louis was not badly damaged, and he could inspect
it after he had slept.
"Well, how do you feel about it, Captain?" Herrick asks solicitously in the flier's account. "I argued that I wanted to get some items from the
cockpit, and to show how to put the windows in." Lindbergh claims he was driven back to the "Air Union hangar" where "my Spirit of St. Louis has
been placed inside." After "a careful inspection," he was satisfied "no serious damage had been done. A few hours of work would make my plane airworthy
again." Never one to concede injury, Lindbergh was trying to minimize what could not be completely denied, as revealed in photographs taken of the
The pictures also established that it had been taken to the C.I.D.N.A.
hangar. "I must say," states Sarrazin, the chief mechanic, "I did not see
Lindbergh again during the course of that memorable night.... Since the
plane suffered quite a bit of damage-the fabric on the fuselage and control
panels torn out, the empennage thrown out of line, the tail skid twisted-the
fuselage and control surfaces had to be completely recovered...." The French
were adamant about not showing the plane until it had been restored, but
their concern was not so much about upsetting Lindbergh. Ambassador Herrick
had warned them that any harm befalling the flier or his machine would
arouse hostile American feelings against France.
When Lindbergh bolted out of the door in search of his plane, his "rescuers"
ran in pursuit and brought him back to Herrick. "Instead of taking him
to his ship, they bundled him immediately into their car and started off
to Paris by roads known only to them," confirms the ambassador. "I did
not see him again until I got to the embassy some hours later."
[IMAGE PHOTOGRAPH] Captioned as: The Spirit of St Louis is readied for
Major Weiss went along with Detroyat and Delage in the overcrowded Renault.
Aside from assuring that Lindbergh would reach the embassy, the French
officer added the dignity of his rank to a brief ceremony that took place
enroute. An impromptu affair, it had all the earmarks of having been suggested,
if not ordered, by Ambassador Herrick. Once in the city, Lindbergh and
his escort made a visit at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de
Triomphe. While it is doubtful the flier fully understood the significance
of the site, much less cared on his third night without sleep, Weiss recorded
the event in highly grandiloquent terms.
"Lindbergh asked us to stop," reads an article he wrote shortly thereafter.
"He walked to the tomb and bowed in silence. Only three of us witnessed
this historic scene, in which the conqueror of the Atlantic stood over
the grave of that other conqueror, shedding a leaf from the still fresh
crown on his brow. No spectacle of such solemn grandeur has been seen in
this generation." Weiss said nothing about his "rescue" of Lindbergh at
Coppens, the Belgian attache, had followed the Renault in his own car into
Paris. As they drove up the Champs Elysees, he saw Delage pull over in
front of the Claridge Hotel. The doorman went inside and returned with
some flowers he collected from the empty tables in the dining room. At
such an early hour, they were the only ones available to place on the tomb
of France's Unknown Soldier. Lindbergh himself mentions no such floral
tribute. "My friends took me through the arch," he relates, .and I found
myself standing silently with them at the tomb.... They wanted my first
stop in Paris to be at the Arc de Triomphe, they said."
Barely a few hours later, the Paris newspaper, Le Matin, reported in bold
headlines how an exuberant crowd had greeted the flier at Le Bourget with
cries of give Lindbergh! Vive l'Amerique!" Another front-page story informed
Parisians of his moving early morning visit to the Arc de Triomphe "to
salute the Unknown Soldier." Back in the States, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
noted editorially shortly after the flight that, while "on his way into
Paris in Ambassador Herrick's automobile," Lindbergh "requested that the
prearranged route into the city be changed so as to permit him to lay a
wreath on the tomb of the French Unknown Soldier. Tired and exhausted as
he was, he achieved by this little act ... added respect and appreciation
not only for himself but the nation he represented. ...America has reason
to be proud." Evidently, Herrick still had contacts in St. Louis where,
as a young man, he had worked briefly as a reporter.
The ambassador himself credited Lindbergh with ending "one of those periods
of petulant nagging and quarreling between the French and ourselves. ...Within
ten hours after Lindbergh landed at Le Bourget all these clouds were rolling
away...." Fearful there might not be "another Lindbergh to drop out of
the sky to help us.. next time bickering starts up," Herrick could only
hope "we might have sense enough to invent one just for the occasion."
Some correspondents were not above doing a little inventing of their own
that night, as they faced Sunday edition deadlines without having seen
Lindbergh. John Pickering of the Paris Herald ran three miles from Le Bourget
before finding a taxi for the rest of the trip back to his office. "Christ,
what a story!" he exclaimed on arriving. "I practically had my hands on
him. Then, presto! He's gone. First guy to fly it, and not a single word
from him. We're high and dry."
Hank Wales of the Chicago Tribune was not so hard pressed in covering the
big event. Acting as if he knew all along that Lindbergh would not be speaking
to anyone on arrival, Wales proceeded to write an imaginary interview with
him at planeside.
"`Am I in Paris?.'" he quotes the flier on landing. "You're here,' I told
him, as the mob jabbered in French...."
Wales noted how Lindbergh, a strict teetotaler, "gulped down a swallow
of brandy from a flask one of the French pilots offered, and it seemed
to revive him."
For his "Lindbergh exclusive," he received a $500 bonus from his newspaper,
a considerable sum at the time. Other envious correspondents accused Wales
of having written his imaginative dispatch earlier that afternoon. "Wales
was on excellent terms with Herrick," recounted Waverley Root of the Chicago
Tribune's Paris edition," and it wouldn't have been beyond him to acquaint
Herrick with what he intended to write and make sure there would be no
denial of it. Indeed, he might even, as a friend of the ambassador, have
served as a sort of unofficial adviser on what angles it would be politic
to persuade Lindbergh to stress..in the interest of French American amity."
"We reporters suffered the tortures of the damned," echoed James of the
Times. He nonetheless managed to turn in "a slick professional job" telling
how Lindbergh appeared at the terminal after being rescued from the crowd.
In a follow-up article, James pointed an accusing finger, not at Herrick,
but the reception committee for "deeply planning" to snatch Lindbergh on
landing so "that those New York Times reporters did not do any `isolating.'
Well, if we did not, they did not." Along with the lines of soldiers and
police, the crowd had swept up the official greeters.
James does not explain why the reception committee would want to prevent
reporters from reaching Lindbergh, but someone had to be blamed for his
failure to carry out the "isolating" order from New York. When James learned
that the one responsible was the American ambassador, he did not dare expose
him, not to mention embarrass Lindbergh, who had become a world acclaimed
hero overnight. None of the correspondents, in fact, ever suggested that
Herrick was involved in the flier's disappearance from the field after
he landed. To have done so would have made them look ludicrous, and since
they were able to see the flier before dawn anyway, the correspondents
could be forgiving.
James and his crew were crawling back emptyhanded in heavy traffic to Paris
when one of them, Carlisle MacDonald, asked him, "Say, James, do you think
we will get fired for this?" Thanks to Herrick's concern about his good
relations with the press, and Lindbergh's insistence on fulfilling his
contract with the paper, nobody was. James, "a tough, hard-bitten character,"
ended his long newspaper career as the managing editor of The New York
Once back at the office, James recalled how they went to work "getting
the story together. Then we remembered we had not got Captain Lindbergh.
...Ambassador Herrick is a good fellow,' someone said, `he will tell: Off
Mac went and found Captain Lindbergh sitting on the edge of the bed in
the Embassy drinking a glass of milk." Unless Herrick did tell, locating
Lindbergh could hardly have been so easy. As MacDonald himself conceded,
the ambassador's son, Parmely, cordially let him in at the embassy as if
he had been expected all along. "`Come on in, Mac. He's upstairs talking
to Father.' There were no other reporters in the Embassy."
Herrick had lingered behind at Le Bourget to throw the press off the scent,
and give Lindbergh and his escort time to reach the embassy. On returning
there, the ambassador found his guest was upset because he had not met
the Times reporters at the airport as he had expected. The flight to Paris
was only the first stop on what Lindbergh hoped would be a trip around
the world, and for that he needed money. Aside from a few testimonials
he had given before leaving New York, he had no ready source of income
other than what the Times would pay him. Although he had won the $25,000
Orteig prize for making the flight, he fully expected his St. Louis backers
would claim most of it to pay for the plane.
Herrick insisted he should rest and wait until the next day to talk with
the Times men, but once determined to have his way, Lindbergh was not easily
swayed even by an ambassador nearly three times his age. Herrick finally
yielded and telephoned James as to where he could find the most sought
man in all of Paris. At the embassy, MacDonald was ushered up to the flier's
room, finding him "wide-awake, coherent and most cooperative" during a
Herrick was later accused of working hand in glove with the Times in his
handling of Lindbergh. Back home, press czar William Randolph Hearst sent
a protesting telegram to Secretary of State Frank Kellogg on being advised
that "the Ambassador and his family were keeping all the newspapermen away
from Lindbergh except The New York Times." The flier, replied Kellogg,
was Herrick's "personal guest," and the government "has nothing whatever
to do with Mr. Lindbergh's affairs."
Herrick, understandably sensitive to the charge of favoritism, later sought
to explain himself to his biographer. As newsmen gathered outside the embassy,
he said he suggested to the flier, "if he was not worn out, he let them
all in for a minute," but he declined, citing his "exclusive contract"
with the Times. Herrick added he realized "this thing seemed to big an
affair to be made the exclusive news of any one paper." Since MacDonald
was still at the embassy, Herrick sent his son downstairs to discuss the
situation with him.
According to the reporter, he took it upon himself, evidently without consulting
James, to release Lindbergh from his contract "in deference to the world
importance of the story.... I never regretted it. Through all the giddy
weeks afterward... he remained true to the Times." Herrick apparently was
much relieved to be off the hook. MacDonald, he praised, "showed himself
the high-class man he is... and all the journalists came up to hear what
Lindbergh would tell them."
The truth be told, that is not precisely how the flier got to meet the
press early that Sunday morning. Herrick had no intentions of allowing
him to talk to other newsmen after his interview with MacDonald, who undoubtedly
was of the same mind. Lindbergh was tucked in and told to get some sleep.
Not long afterward, a band of reporters led by Ralph Barnes of the Paris
Herald arrived in taxies outside the embassy gate. Convinced Lindbergh
was inside, Barnes asked to see the ambassador. Herrick met the reporters
in a small reception room, and admitted the flier was upstairs sleeping.
Pleading that his guest was too exhausted to be disturbed, the ambassador
insisted there would be no interviews until he awoke and was alert enough
to talk with them.
In the group was Jay Allen, whom Wales had sent out to follow up on what
had happened to Lindbergh. He called his office and reported the impasse
to Shirer, who answered. Angrily snatching the phone, Wales bellowed, "Listen,
Jay. Tell Herrick you fellows have got to see him.... And if that doesn't
work, barge up to the bedroom yourself. We got to talk to him."
Still awake, Lindbergh overheard the commotion when the reporters arrived
at the embassy. Herrick's son came downstairs and announced that the flier
"did not care to go to sleep just yet and would be glad to see the newspaper
men for a few minutes." While barnstorming, Lindbergh had learned that
advance billing and publicity were important to get the townspeople out
to the fairgrounds for the air show. Flying the ocean alone had been like
stunting over an empty grandstand, and now he was more than anxious to
tell his story. The correspondents let out a whoop, and swept the ambassador
out of their way as they dashed up the staircase.
When they entered the room, Lindbergh jumped up from his bed and asked,
"Is The New York Times man here?" Only after MacDonald stepped forward
was he ready to talk. "Questions were fired at him from all sides," observed
the Times reporter. Charming the correspondents with his boyish smile and
seeming humility, Lindbergh became more expansive and dramatic as he recounted
his flight. Although he had traveled through "sleet and snow for over 1,000
miles, he refused to take seriously the problem of flying the Atlantic."
He said he could not get over at "how short a time it took to cross the
ocean," calculating he could have gone on for another five hundred miles,
if not a thousand. "I didn't get at all sleepy," he boasted.
As the questions shifted from the flight to his arrival at Le Bourget,
Herrick became very uneasy. The ambassador abruptly ended the interview
after only seven or eight minutes, explaining it was "too much strain on
the flier to submit him to further questioning." As Lindbergh himself recalled,
""Paris clocks marked 4:15 in the morning before I went to bed. It was
sixty-three hours since I had slept."
It remained for Herrick to end the momentous day with a transatlantic cable
that would tug at the heartstrings of mothers all over America. Addressed
to Evangeline Lindbergh in Detroit, it appeared in the Times Sunday editions
after MacDonald received a copy before he left the embassy. It read:
WARMEST CONGRATULATIONS. YOUR INCOMPARABLE SON HAS HONORED ME BY BECOMING
MY GUEST HE IS IN FINE CONDITION AND SLEEPING SWEETLY UNDER UNCLE SAM'S
ROOF. MYRON HERRICK.
The ambassador later maintained he had not "realized the magnitude of this
event... until the next morning, when I saw the newspapers .... Then the
thought came to me of the significance of it all, also of my act of taking
him to the Embassy, which placed the United States Government behind him."
For political reasons, Herrick had acted, even before Lindbergh landed safely Le Bourget, to create the impression that his flight had the endorsement
of Washington. The ambassador wanted to impress upon French authorities at the highest level that the American pilot merited being wellreceived
and honored by their country, while at the same time assuaging their own sense of loss and resentment over the disappearance of Nungesser and Coli.
Undoubtedly, the French Foreign Office was provided with an advance copy of a congratulatory message that was to be handed to Lindbergh immediately
on his arrival. [Emphasis added.]
Cabled from Washington, the message recommended, if not drafted, by Herrick
read in part:
THE AMERICAN PEOPLE REJOICE WITH ME AT THE BRILLIANT TERMINATION
OF YOUR HEROIC FLIGHT. Told that his feat CROWNS THE RECORD OF AMERICAN
AVIATION, the flier was reminded that he was BRINGING THE GREETINGS OF
THE AMERICAN PEOPLE TO FRANCE. The cable further charged him with carrying
THE ASSURANCE OF OUR ADMIRATION OF THOSE INTREPID FRENCHMEN, NUNGESSER
AND COLI, WHOSE BOLD SPIRITS FIRST VENTURED ON YOUR EXPLOIT, AND LIKEWISE
A MESSAGE OF OUR CONTINUED ANXIETY CONCERNING THEIR FATE. The communication
was signed, CALVIN COOLIDGE.
[IMAGE PHOTOGRAPH] Captioned as: Charles Lindbergh and Ambassador Herrick
respond to a chanting crowd from a balcony window at the U.S. Embassy in
After putting his "guest" to bed, one of the first things Herrick did was to acknowledge the "worthy tribute" from Washington. FOR THE PRESIDENT,
began the ambassador's cable that was transmitted through Secretary of State Kellogg.
ALL FRANCE IS DEEP IN JOY AT CHARLES LINDBERGH'S BRAVE FLIGHT...
IF WE HAD DELIBERATELY SOUGHT A TYPE TO REPRESENT THE YOUTH, THE INTREPID
ADVENTURE OF AMERICA AND THE IMMORTAL BRAVERY OF NUNGESSER AND COLI, WE
COULD NOT HAVE FARED AS WELL AS IN THIS BOY OF DIVINE GENIUS AND SIMPLE
Lindbergh had arrived with only the clothes he wore-his full-length flying
suit over a pair of breeches, shirt and tie, and his long-sleeved sweater-the
outfit in which he had posed for countless pictures in New York. After
he got up about noon, he dressed in a borrowed, doublebreasted dark blue
suit. Someone said he looked "the picture of a typical American farmer
Ambassador Herrick and his embassy staff had to improvise because the "hero
of the hour" could not be kept hidden much longer. By early afternoon,
a large crowd had gathered outside the front gate, chanting, "We Want Lindbergh!"
In response, Herrick led the flier out onto a balcony overlooking the street.
The throng cheered on seeing the elderly ambassador and the tall, fresh-faced
youth standing side by side with their arms entwined, smiling broadly down
on them. A French flag was brought out, and together they let it "unfurl
in the breeze." The loud cheering continued until an embarrassed Lindbergh
left the balcony "with a final wave and another of his engaging smiles."
Once he was back inside, it was high time to appease the reporters besieging the embassy. Earlier, the flier had chatted leisurely with James and MacDonald
as he ate a hearty breakfast. Finally, he walked down the grand staircase locked arm-in-arm with Herrick on his right and a man on his left who very
likely was the ambassador's son. In depicting the scene, Waverley Root mistakenly identifies him as Benjamin F. Mahoney, the builder of the Spirit
of St. Louis. He had followed the flier from San Diego to New York by train and then sailed for Europe, but had yet to arrive in Paris.
Writing decades later, Root was still deeply resentful of having been kept downstairs with the other reporters while the Times men were upstairs with
the flier. Since he outlived practically everyone there, including Lindbergh, Root could also be very candid. As he came down for his first formal press
appearance, Root recalls, "Lindbergh looked as if he were being led to the electric chair between two husky guards."
The flier's opening statement obviously had been written for him with the cable from President Coolidge in mind. "I brought with me, gentlemen, the
great sorrow of the American people for Nungesser and Coli," he said somberly. "The French attempt was in the heart of the whole nation, and we grieve
with France over their noble failure." Not surprisingly, the first question asked was what did Lindbergh think of French women. "I haven't seen any
yet," he curtly replied. According to Root, this was "his last contribution to the conversation except for the syllable Uh'. ...If a question opened
an opportunity to make political capital, Herrick answered for Lindbergh before he could get his mouth open. If it were technical, the Ryan man
pounced on it. Between these answers, Lindbergh was helpless."
On his first full day in Paris he had only one other engagement, a late
afternoon call on "la Maman du Capitaine Nungesser." Although the visit
was said to have been "unknown to anyone except the immediate household
of the Ambassador," it turned out to be a badly kept secret. By the time
Herrick and his party arrived, thousands of people crowded the street and
the police were already there in force to clear the way. The visitors had
to climb six flights of creaky stairs to reach a small apartment where
Mme. Nungesser herself admitted them. One seeing the youthful American
who had survived the Atlantic, the grieving woman embraced him and wept.
"She was in a pitiful state of emotion over the loss of her son," Herrick sympathized, "and begged Lindbergh to find him for her." He supposedly
told her that the search was continuing and that her son would likely be found in the wilds of Canada. "This graceful gesture," observed the Times,
"has earned for the bashful, fair-haired boy from the West the undying affection of the whole French nation." Lindbergh later denied that he had
given "Mme. Nungesser any hope for the return of her son, as there was practically none." In all fairness, he was as much a pawn as Mme. Nungesser
in their emotional meeting which Ambassador Herrick had carefully arranged.
The following day the flier spoke publicly for the first time at a luncheon
hosted by the Aero Club of France. He limited his remarks to Nungesser
and Coli, stating that those "brave airmen attempted a greater thing in
taking off from Paris to New York than I have done in accomplishing the
trip from New York to Paris. Their difficulties were far greater than mine...."
Lindbergh's response, after other speakers had hailed his own flight as
"the greatest thing ever done in the history of aviation," struck everyone
for its modesty. As one American resident in Paris remarked, "It was as
if the spirit of their own aviators had returned. The French accepted him
as one of their own."
David Lawrence, a syndicated columnist, reported from Washington that Herrick
"has taken charge of the young hero.... The Government here is pleased,
indeed exuberant. Diplomacy knows what it means to get a whole nation speaking
in praise of an American." Some months later, Henry Wales elaborated on
the political fallout of the flight. "Flag-waving, nationalism, and politics
played their part in the drama afterward, " he wrote. "Washington discovered
the value of this `ambassador without portfolio,' and cabled Herrick in
secret code to exploit the hero to the utmost in order to link up more
firmly America's diplomatic relations with France weakened since the war."
Herrick himself testified as to the effort made to comply with that directive.
"For more than a week," he said, "the ambassador to France and almost his
entire staff were busy night and day attending to nothing except matters
which concerned a young American who a few days before had never been heard
of It was not a question of whether we wanted to do it... it had to be
done.... There was no escape. Of course, nobody wanted to escape; we were
all charmed with him and delighted that things turned out as they did."
The ambassador effectively became the architect of the flier's celebrafication
both official and personal. "Shy, Nordic Lindbergh was just what the clever
diplomat needed," commented Time magazine. "He rushed to Le Bourget waving
French and U.S. flags; seized `Lucky Lindy' with avidity; put him to bed
in his own diplomatic pajamas; wrapped him in the tricolor; had him photographed,
interviewed, dined and decorated; and caused the greatest enthusiasm for
At noon on Monday, Herrick escorted Lindbergh to the Elyse Palace, the
official residence of the French President. MacDonald, in his Times dispatch,
reported that "within five minutes after arriving-a speed which would give
American efficiency methods cause for thought-President Gaston Doumergue
had pinned the Cross of the Legion of Honor upon the lapel of his blue
suit-- the one lent to him by Ambassador Herrick's son. In so doing France's
Chief Executive set a new precedent, for never before has he personally
conferred this distinctive decoration on an American." The act of a chief
of state bestowing a high decoration on Lindbergh was also a precedent
invariably followed in all of the other countries he later visited with
the Spirit of St. Louis.
Before the day was over, the flier met the French Premier, Raymond Poincare,
who shook his hand and congratulated him on his "belle exploit." Summarizing
"Capt. Lindbergh's first day of being lionized," the Associated Press concluded
he had been "showered with such honors as France in all her history has
never spontaneously bestowed on another private citizen."
Later that week, Herrick arranged for the young hero to have lunch with
the Minister of War, Paul Painleve, as well as the Foreign Minister, Aristide
Briand, at the Quai d'Orsay "The days that followed were carbon copies
of the first," Root elaborates. "We followed Lindbergh through a succession
of presentations of awards, official receptions, banquets, and laudatory
speeches, reporting word after banal word. ...Lindbergh was moved through
his labyrinth of ceremony like a puppet, wearing a perpetual expression
After his arrival in Paris, the flier had barely caught up on his sleep
before he was showered with invitations to visit other European cities.
Herrick did all he could to dissuade him from going, particularly to Berlin.
To do so, he told the flier with some heat, would be an affront to the
French after they had honored him with the Legion of Honor. Although the
ambassador wanted him to return home directly with a message of friendship
and goodwill from the French people, Lindbergh was easily persuaded by
a British delegation from England to fly to London with a stop in Brussels
Herrick vainly counseled against the flight, "if explaining a situation
a man does not understand, is giving advice." After all he had done, he
was much concerned about losing all control over Lindbergh. He telephoned
the American ambassador in London, Alanson B. Houghton, and urged him to
put the flier up in his own embassy, so as "to protect him and give his
visit official recognition."
Lindbergh left Paris with his plane exactly one week after his tumultuous
arrival at Le Bourget. After seeing him off, Herrick cabled Secretary of
State Kellogg, stating in part:
LINDBERGH HAS JUST DEPARTED. THROUGHOUT THE WEEK IN PARIS NOT ONE UNTOWARD
THING HAS HAPPENED. HE HAS CAPTURED EVERYONE BY HIS COURAGE, MODESTY AND
INHERITED GOOD SENSE ...AN EXPRESSION OF APPRECIATION BY THE PRESIDENT
AND BY YOU WOULD BE GREATLY APPRECIATED AND WOULD CONSOLIDATE THE GOOD
THAT HAS BEEN EFFECTED.... ALTHOUGH HE CAME UNOFFICIALLY... [LINDBERGH]
HAS BECOME A REAL AMBASSADOR TO FRANCE....
The flier never went beyond London. Aside from the pressure from Herrick,
his St. Louis backers were agitating for his return with the plane they
felt belonged to them. They appealed to Secretary of War Dwight Davis who,
being from St. Louis, was also anxious to have the city reap its share
of the glory. After some discussion, Ambassador Houghton advised the reluctant
flier in the strongest possible terms to comply with "the wish of Washington
and those who have your best interest at heart." Lindbergh later stated
he only agreed to go back because "it was an order from the President of
the United States." Sorrowfully, he gave up his plane for dismantling and
crating in England, and returned to Paris in a borrowed military aircraft.
Since Lindbergh had first landed there, Herrick insisted it was only fitting
and proper he should depart from France. Houghton expedited arrangements
for his return on an American warship, while Herrick worked with the French
to have the flier sail from Cherbourg where the local chamber of commerce
organized an elaborate farewell. Lindbergh had fallen into the hands of
two skillful ambassadors who managed to subordinate his wishes to what
they believed were "our best national interests."
Until the moment he sailed, Herrick used the flier with uncanny shrewdness
to improve FrancoAmerican relations, a stratagem for which he made no apologies.
"From the moment I decided to take him to my house," he elucidated, "all
the rest followed inevitably. Providence had interposed in the shape of
this boy, and if I did not seize the occasion offered I was not worth my
salt. I did not make the opportunity; I only took advantage of it. Lindbergh
Without Ambassador Herrick, it is highly questionable whether Lindbergh
would have become an American icon with the status of near royalty, the
closest thing the country ever had to a Prince of Wales. Even so, Lindbergh,
without Herrick, would surely be as well remembered as Amelia Earhart,
the first person after him to fly the Atlantic alone, and who received
many of the same honors, including the French Legion of Honor. But, then,
her legend lives on not because of that solo flight but for the mystery
of her later disappearance without a trace over the Pacific. The irony
is that if Lindbergh had suffered a similar fate in 1927, he would be no
better known today than the other fliers who set out like him to fly the
Atlantic and never made it. In the making of heroes, much depends on time,
place and circumstances.
A Story Told But Unrevealed: Sleuthing the Sources
While Charles Lindbergh has the unique distinction of being the first to
fly solo across the Atlantic, he did not do so in a vacuum, as international
political, economic, and sociological forces converged to make him one
of the brightest "superstars" in aviation history. The process began even
before his landing and unceremonious reception at Le Bourget, a story which,
if revealed, would have acutely embarrassed Ambassador Herrick, not to
mention Lindbergh himself.
Herrick, in his "autobiographical biography," (Mott, T Bentley. Myron T Herrick: Friend of France. Garden City, N.Y. Doubleday, Doran, 1929, pp.
340-55), devotes an entire chapter on Lindbergh in Paris, explaining what he does not openly acknowledge, i.e., that his youthful guest was effectively
detained on his arrival until he, the ambassador, assumed custody and had him taken to the American embassy. The messages between Herrick and Washington
concerning Lindbergh appear in full text in The Flight of Captain Charles A. Lindbergh From New York to Paris, May 20-21, 1927. As Compiled from
the Official Records of the Department of State. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1927.
Lindbergh, in his two books about the flight, makes the best of the situation he found himself in on landing at Le Bourget. In the first, (We. New York:
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1927), he states very simply that, after the attention of the crowd was diverted from him, "I managed to get inside one of the
hangars." (p. 226.) After a lapse of a quarter-century before his second book was published (The Spirit of St. Louis. New York: Charles Scribner's
Sons, 1953), Lindbergh was more expansive in a brief afterword. (pp. 495-501.)
He wrote it on the advice of his editors who felt that ending the book with the crowd rushing toward his plane at Le Bourget was too abrupt.
Henry Wales, the correspondent who was on close terms with Herrick, lived to read the book. Lindbergh, he tellingly complains in a review (Chicago
Sunday Tribune, September 13, 1953), "chokes off his successful arrival in Paris in ten pages, says practically nothing of the tremendous reception
that awaited him, and remains mute on the intrigue and political passion afterward." Another well-informed reader was Willy Coppens, the Belgian
air attache in Paris in 1927. "Lindbergh himself," he notes parenthetically in his own account, "has not reported exactly the vicissitudes of his arrival,
not comprehending what was happening to him....
Lindbergh's confident narrative of his "rescue" from the crowd and peripatetic journey which eventually ended at the American Embassy prevails in all
of the biographies and other books about him. Their authors evidently were of the same mind as Brendan Gill, the first among them to publish a work
with full access to Lindbergh's papers. The best authority on his subject, Gill professed, was Lindbergh himself. In his brief book, (Lindbergh Alone.
New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977), Gill describes the tumultuous scene at Le Bourget by quoting verbatim, with attribution, five consecutive
paragraphs from We. (pp. 146-47.)
In his writings, Lindbergh never mentions his contractual arrangements with the New York Times, but they are reported in detail in an early history
of the paper. (Berger, Meyer. The Story of the New York Times, 1851-1951.
New York: Simon and Schuster, 1951, pp. 291-- 305.) Also included is the full text of a lengthy, follow-up dispatch from Edwin James in which he
attempts to explain what happened after Lindbergh landed. Many other American correspondents also wrote retrospective accounts of
that momentous night (see, Koyen, Kenneth. "Desperately Seeking Lindy." Air & Space, Vol. 5, No. 1, April/May 1990, pp. 44-49), but they add little
to the story beyond their anguish at having to meet deadlines without having seen, much less interviewed, Lindbergh.
One of them was William L. Shirer who likely knew more than he wrote in his book. (20th Century Journey, The Start 1904-1930. Simon and Schuster,
1976, pp. 323-44.) Shirer worked for Wales who had advance information on the reception planned for Lindbergh. Wales himself provides many revealing
details in two magazine articles written ten years apart. ("Lindy and the French Fans." Liberty, September 10, 1927, pp. 71-- 74, and "Formidable."
Atlantic Monthly. June 1937, pp. 669-80.)
Another correspondent, Waverley Root, reflects somewhat cynically on the intrigue involving Wales and Herrick, as well as the ambassador's press-agentry,
in a partial autobiography published after his death. (The Paris Edition. San Francisco: 1987, pp. 28-37.) Root devotes an entire chapter to "The
Since the press was excluded, the best eyewitness report, at least by an American, of what occurred on the upper level of the terminal building
where Herrick's plan for welcoming Lindbergh went awry is a letter John PV. Heinmuller, chief timer of the National Aeronautic Association wrote
home to his wife shortly after. The text was later published in his book about notable airmen, including Lindbergh. (Man's Fight to Fly. New York:
Funk and Wagnalls, 1944. pp. 68-85.)
Without French sources, no account of Lindbergh's arrival at Le Bourget can be complete as well as reasonably accurate. Major Weiss's story, which
does not mention Herrick at all, was published in English as a news article on the first anniversary of the event. (New York Herald Tribune, May 20,
1928.) Two years later, Jean Claude d'Ahetze, the stand-in who felt slighted because he was not the one carried to the airport terminal to be welcomed
by Herrick, wrote a long letter replete with inconsistencies to the New York Times. It was published on July 13, 1930 under the heading, "One of
Lindbergh's Doubles Tells How It All Happened."
Although in French, other personal recollections saw print on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of Lindbergh's flight when Icare, a solid French
aeronautical review, put out a commemorative issue featuring transatlantic flying. (No. 81, Summer 1977.) A long piece by Willy Coppens ("La veridique
histoire de (arrive de Charles Lindbergh au Bourget," pp. 65-75.) affords the reader a comprehensive picture of the dramatic event, beginning that
Saturday morning with a much preoccupied Major Weiss issuing "precise orders" to his men in case the American pilot reached Paris. Although Coppens claims
that "only the commandant and myself are able to relate the true story," he does not place Weiss at the scene of the landing melee, as others testify
in their accounts.
While much briefer, the story of Chief Mechanic Fernand Sarrazin ("J'ai accueilli Lindbergh," pp. 77-82) is no less significant. He recalls "officers
belonging to the 34th Aviation Regiment based at Le Bourget," arriving at Lindbergh's plane before the crowd, and only seconds after he, being
first, did so.
Commenting on Sarrazin's story, Icare editor Jean Lasserre recalls d'Ahetze's own version which he had published ten years before (No. 42), on the fortieth
anniversary of the flight. In it, d'Ahetze claims he greeted Lindbergh before anyone else as he landed. Lasserre tactfully concedes both may have
been there "at the same moment, on opposite sides of the machine. We will probably never know.... Perhaps with a closer reading, even a little research,
the editor might have credited Commandant Weiss and Sergeant Detroyat with being first, a distinction they never claimed for themselves. Over a lifetime,
one remained loyal to Ambassador Herrick, the other to Charles Lindbergh.
Sarrazin's account in Icare was actually written in 1927. Still living on the fiftieth anniversary, he was interviewed by a reporter on his encounter
with Lindbergh at Le Bourget. The retired mechanic told much the same story, but with one major alteration. He said nothing about the soldiers driving
up in cars with blinding headlights, and yanking Lindbergh out of his cockpit. All he remembered was the wave of people dashing across the field toward
"The crowd almost kidnapped Lindbergh, and it began to tear souvenirs from the fabric covering the fuselage," Sarrazin told the reporter. Changing
his story fifty years later, he had perhaps read Lindbergh's book by then, and decided not to contradict it. After all, who would take his word against
that of aviation's greatest hero?
Lt. Col. Raymond H. Fredette, USAF (Ret.) is a native of Massachusetts.
He earned degrees in history and international relations from Tufts University
and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. During World War II, he flew
thirty-one combat missions over Germany with the Eighth Air Force. Recalled
to active duty in 1951, Fredette served as an intelligence officer in Morocco,
Germany, and Vietnam. He also had teaching assignments with AFROTC and
the Defense Intelligence School in Washington, D. C. Shortly after retiring,
he met Charles Lindbergh who agreed to cooperate in the writing of a book
about his military activities. Lindbergh held the rank of brigadier general
in the Air Force Reserve. Before his death in 1974, he gave Fredette "unrestricted
access" to his papers at Yale University and other depositories. The project
was later expanded when Anne Morrow Lindbergh authorized Fredette "to write
the definitive biography of my husband."His research and writing led to
a standoff with his publisher, William Jovanovich of Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich,
and the book was never completed. Fredette is currently working on another
book titled, "The Lindberghs: Decoding Charles, Remembering Anne." Colonel
Fredette has written many articles on aviation history, and a book on the
origins of strategic bombing in World War I, The Sky on Fire, which has
been reissued as a volume in the Smithsonian History of Aviation Series.
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