By James M. Gifford
JSF CEO & Senior Editor
Americans know Ohio native Eddie Rickenbacker as a World War I hero. He was the ace fighter pilot of the 94th Aero Pursuit Squadron who personally shot down 26 enemy aircrafts. He received the Medal of Honor and many other decorations for bravery and service to his country.
Two decades later, Rickenbacker was over 50 years old and the president of Eastern Airlines, but he served his country again during World War II. In October 1942, he was inspecting air bases in the South Pacific when his B-17 crashed into the ocean 200 miles north of Samoa.
Rickenbacker and seven other men survived. Adrift on three rubber rafts, they had four oranges, a little water, and two fishing lines — but no bait. One man died and the other seven suffered terribly from thirst, hunger and heat.
One of the men had a Bible in his pocket and he and his fellow sufferers sustained themselves by reading aloud. On the eighth day, they prayed “frankly and humbly” and a seagull landed on Captain Rickenbacker’s shoulder. It became bait and the starving fliers caught some fish and survived for 23 days before they were rescued.
At the beginning of World War II, this was a special Christmas story. For those who reflect on it today, it is a reminder that faith will bring deliverance.
Captain Rickenbacker’s ordeal also becomes a metaphor for our lives, because America is adrift in a sea of serious problems. If we pray for guidance in 2020, it will come as surely as it came to Eddie Rickenbacker and his crew in 1942.
Rickenbacker’s story is included in a magnificent book, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” This 210-page book, published by the Library of Congress, celebrates the spirit of Christmas during World War II. This beautiful book, full color with more than 100 powerful photographic illustrations, is available at the Jesse Stuart Foundation for only $23. This lavishly illustrated, impeccably researched keepsake volume beautifully commemorates the timeless humanity of the soldiers who fought World War II, as well as the feelings of their loved ones back home.
Examining the experiences of soldiers and factory workers, men and women, mothers and sons, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” opens a window to a unique time in American history that still touches us today and captures in wonderful prose how the worst of times can bring out the best in humans everywhere. It is a message that can help to heal the hearts of today’s readers.
“It would be a great gift for any veteran,” observes World War II aviator Carl Leming.
This book and dozens of other Christmas books for children and adults are available at the Jesse Stuart Foundation Bookstore & Appalachian Gift Shop.
Merry Christmas from your friends at the Jesse Stuart Foundation!