Eastchester honors WWI’s Rickenbacker

By CHRIS EBERHART

The Town of Eastchester honored 1930 Medal of Honor recipient and Bronxville resident Edward Rickenbacker, whose wild, reckless style turned him into a World War I legend, by inducting him into the Medal of Honor Memorial in Eastchester’s Veteran’s Park on Nov. 11.

Michael Fix tells Edward Rickenbacker’s Medal of Honor story. Photos/Amanda Picarillo

Michael Fix tells Edward Rickenbacker’s Medal of Honor story. Photos/Amanda Picarillo

Michael Fix, a member of the American Legion Post 979, which pushed for Ricken-backer’s induction and studied the WWI pilot, said the best way he can describe Rickenbacker, who was a top-five race car driver before the war, is by the time he drove an antique car in front of an oncoming train and emerged unscathed.

“There is an old movie where a Tin Lizzie is racing a locomotive. The Tin Lizzie pulls across the tracks of the oncoming train but does not get hit. To me, that is the kind of thing that Rickenbacker did. He was always defying death and injury,” Fix said.

In 1918, Rickenbacker challenged death again, but this time in the air and during a war.

“It was the seventh mission that earned him the Medal of Honor,” Fix said. “On the 25th of September in 1918, there were five Foker German airplanes and two large Halberstadts that Rickenbacker encountered.”

The Color Guard marches forward at the opening of Edward Rickenbacker’s induction ceremony into the Medal of Honor Memorial in Eastchester’s Veteran’s Park.

The Color Guard marches forward at the opening of Edward Rickenbacker’s induction ceremony into the Medal of Honor Memorial in Eastchester’s Veteran’s Park.

Rickenbacker was in the clouds above and watched a battle scene unfold below him as the seven German planes “turned on the defenseless Yankee [recon planes] and peppered them with gunfire,” Fix said.

Rickenbacker swooped down and “opened up his Browning machine gun and took out a Foker,” Fix said. “Then went back up into the clouds, gathered his thoughts and went back down and took a Halberstadt out.”

“Seven German fighter pilots against one American is incredible. The story shouldn’t have ended that way. Maybe with one German casualty. And certainly not with Eddie surviving,” Fix said.

Rickenbacker ultimately down-ed 26 German planes during the war, which was the most of any American, thus earning him the nickname “America’s Ace of Aces.”

Fix said Rickenbacker was awarded the Medal of Honor after the war, but Congress didn’t approve the receipt of the medal because Rickenbacker was so outspoken against Prohibition. Three presidents took office, and none of them awarded him the Medal until President Herbert Hoover gave it to him in 1930.

Two veterans fire their rifles in salute to Edward Rickenbacker.

Two veterans fire their rifles in salute to Edward Rickenbacker.

Not only did years pass before Rickenbacker was finally granted the award, but years passed before he was inducted into Eastchester’s Veteran’s Park.

Fix said most people didn’t know Rickenbacker lived in Bronxville, which is what he set out to prove.

While working full time as a stockbroker, Fix read and researched Rickenbacker and proved to Bronxville’s historical society that he lived in the village.

Fast forward to this year’s Veterans’ Day. About 25 veterans and an eclectic handful of elected officials—including Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, County Legislator Sheila Marcotte, Tuckahoe Mayor Steve Ecklond and Eastchester councilmen Joe Dooley, Luigi Marcoccia and Fred Salanitro—were on hand to witness Rickenbacker’s induction into the Medal of Honor Memorial in Eastchester’s Veteran’s Park.

Rickenbacker joins three other Congressional Medal of Honor recipients in the memorial: WWI veteran Richard William O’Neil, WWII veteran Robert Murray and Vietnam veteran Major Cheli.

Joe Mammana, who represented Eastchester’s American Legion, said the Congressional Medal of Honor is the highest honor the United States government can award to a veteran.

“It is bestowed on a member of the United States Armed Forces, who distinguished themselves by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of their own life, going above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in action against an enemy of the United States,” Mammana said.

Contact: christopher@hometwn.com