Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Charles Lindbergh's Gesture

Charles Lindbergh
My parents, like many in their generation, considered Charles Lindbergh a great American hero. This is one of the things we never agreed on. After I had read some of the things that Lindbergh had said as spokesman for the American First movement, I concluded the famous aviator was somewhat blind to evil, and an outspoken fool. Since becoming a student of the Great War, however, one episode has been brought to my attention by several readers, and I think it should be shared with others. Also, although I cannot say I've changed my opinion about him much, I think this does shed a little light on one reason why Lindbergh so ardently opposed America's entry into the Second World War.

After landing the Spirit of St. Louis at Le Bourget Airport outside Paris on 31 May 1927 and receiving a tumultuous welcome, Lindbergh, while being driven to the American Embassy, asked to pay a visit to the tomb of France's Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe. This gives both a clue to his strong feelings about the fallen of the Great War and a preview to a great gesture that followed. 

Flanders Field American Cemetery

Several days later he was invited by King Albert to visit Brussels. At the conclusion of the successful visit, Charles Lindbergh directed his now world-famous aircraft to Waregem, Belgium, site of the newly opened American Flanders Fields Cemetery. Bringing the Spirit of St. Louis in low over the graves and monuments, Lindbergh opened a window, dropped a wreath of flowers on the graves of his fellow Americans, and then continued his journey. 

Spirit of St. Louis over Flanders Field Cemetery

Charles Lindbergh had been too young to serve in the First World War, but it appears that he held his countrymen who had fallen in the war in great esteem. Maybe the regret and sadness he felt over their deaths led him to make some of the poor judgments of his later life with which some of us still associate him.


  1. World-class Anti-Semite. As late as October 1938 he was planning to move to Berlin - actually rented a house in Wannsee, the Berlin suburb where in 1942 the plans for the Final Solution were organized and agreed. Supported allowing the Nazis "eastern expansion" as long as they didn't threaten Britain and France.

  2. As was most of the U.S. at the time. But woefully ignorant of the world at the time. No amount of appeasement would satisfy Hitler. The British and French gave Hitler what he wanted and it still wasn't enough. As for Japan, nothing we did was going to make them happy. So America First was a fallacy. His outspoken views before the war, cost him when he tried to step up to offer his help to the war effort.

  3. Diane sums it up perfectly.
    World class anti-Semite and I will add Hitler lover.
    Wonderful performance actions he did with his plane, but that means nothing compared with his vitriol.
    For me, and with good reason, I just think of him with disdain.

    1. Thanks Cyril. At the 1936 Opening Ceremonies for the Summer Olympics in Berlin this American patriot sat not with American Olympians, to encourage and inspire them, but as special guests of Hermann Göring and were seated in a special spectator box with Göring and his wife.

  4. Put it to rest. He's dead. His political stupidity died too.
    What lives on to his credit is his contribution aeronautically. Many P-38 pilots in the Pacific lived to make it home when he taught them how to extend their range and not drop into the drink out of gas. He was there when needed. Injecting opinions you have about his truly unsavory even evil positions he manifested between the wars is out of place in this fine forum dedicated to Great War history. It's not worthy of your otherwise focused scholarship. Put it to rest.

    1. I can’t agree with you Stan, his actions are part of the historical narrative and to ignore them and rather to just concentrate on only his aeronautical contributions is begging the issue. After all his rise to fame and fortune was due to his skill as an aviator, operating a machine, albeit in a hazardous not well understood environment. There were many other skilled and daring that pioneered in this realm, that didn’t succumb to the darker sides of their nature. What he did with his fame and fortune is a part of historical scholarship.

  5. Charles Lindbergh was a humanist a believer in genetic manipulation and a leading edge pilot. He also pioneered air mail and did his bit in WW2. These same personal beliefs exist today in many humanist and extreme liberal ideas (think league of nations) and is not unique to ww1. After all Van Braun helped Hitler before helping the US. I suspect Van Braun's belief system had little to do with his own goals regarding space. A means to an end in his all humanist believe.

  6. Regarding his WW II experience, he was personna non-gratta with the US military leadership but as a civilian tech rep he taught pilots how to extend the range of their fighters. He also flew combat missions and shot-down a Japanese fighter. As a civilian, had he been captured on these missions, he could have been executed.

    I am offended by his pro-Nazi attitudes but view him as a complex man with both good and bad characteristics. He was ill-prepared for the fame and publicity forced upon him by his nonstop solo New York-to-Paris flight, and the kidnapping and murder of his son.

  7. I, too, am not a fan of Lindbergh, but I do not think Wilson's racial segregation views are admirable either. Nor do I think Teddy Roosevelt's white supremacy and jingoism are to be applauded. For that matter, Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, did not believe in racial equality. In other words, historical figures are products of their times. This does not mean we have to admire their every action or belief, we just have to try to understand them -- not always an easy thing.

  8. Another little known aspect of Lindbergh's life is the only recently discovered fact that he had long term relationships with three women in Europe and fathered several children with them.