You’d be hard-pressed to find a more complex individual than Charles Lindbergh. When he burst onto the international stage with his May 1927 solo transatlantic flight, the fresh-faced “Lindy” became the world’s first media superstar, honored and feted wherever he traveled. Less than five years later, he and his wife Anne Morrow Lindbergh endured the dark side of that media celebrity after the kidnapping and murder of their 20-month-old son, Charles Jr. The publicity surrounding the so-called “Crime of the Century” eventually drove the Lindberghs into self-imposed exile in Europe, where the celebrated aviator visited Germany several times at the behest of the U.S. military. There he examined German aviation facilities and even got a chance to pilot a Messerschmitt Bf-109, commenting that he knew of “no other pursuit plane which combines simplicity of construction with such excellent performance characteristics.”
As Dick Hallion recounts in “The Lone Eagle’s War” (P. 22), during a 1938 dinner at the U.S. embassy in Berlin, Luftwaffe leader Hermann Göring presented Lindbergh with a Nazi medal for his contributions to world aviation. His acceptance of the award, and subsequent involvement with the antiwar America First movement, led to allegations that he was pro-Nazi. Lindbergh’s pro-isolationist speeches and writings, perceived by some as anti-Semitic, didn’t help matters. All of this resulted in a very public spat between the airman and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who in an April 1941 speech accused Lindbergh of being a “defeatist and appeaser.” Three days later Lindbergh resigned his Air Corps commission, but as Hallion writes, he would find a way to get into the war.
That’s the Lindbergh with whom most of us are familiar—the strong-willed, controversial, enigmatic “Lone Eagle”—but there were many lesser-known sides to the multifaceted man. How many know, for instance, that he was an early supporter of rocketry pioneer Robert Goddard, who with Lindy’s help secured a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation in 1930 to continue his experiments? Or that, in concert with Nobel Prize–winning surgeon Dr. Alexis Carrel, he invented a glass perfusion pump that led to the development of the first heart-lung machine? Or that Lindbergh won the Pulitzer Prize in 1954 for his book The Spirit of St. Louis (review, P. 63)? Or that in the 1960s he became a dedicated environmentalist, campaigning for the protection of endangered species and indigenous peoples?
This last chapter of his life led to the establishment in 1977 of the nonprofit Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation, dedicated to maintaining balance between technological innovation and conservation of the natural world. The foundation awards grants (up to $10,580, the cost of building Spirit of St. Louis in 1927) for research or educational projects devoted to that cause. It also sponsors the Aviation Green Alliance, whose goal is to reduce aviation’s environmental footprint, and annually presents the honorary Lindbergh Award to an individual who has made a significant contribution to the foundation’s mission. Past recipients have included aviation legends Jimmy Doolittle, Neil Armstrong and Burt Rutan. For more information on the foundation’s many programs, visit lindberghfoundation.org.