Arthur & Capt’n Eddie

Arthur & Capt’n Eddie

I heard from my ol’ pal, Larry Duthie, you might recall the story I wrote about him. If you missed it, just “search” for Larry Duthie KIA.

Not a lot going on with the COVID-19 pandemic, so Larry was searching for something to read. He came across the book “Rickenbacker,” something I loaned him a long time ago. It had my parents address from our ASU/ATΩ college days!

I wrote him back, “Here’s a bit of a story to go with that book…   Actually, there’s more than a couple of stories.  One, you likely heard about “The Bucket of Shrimp.”    The following is more personal in nature.”

Arthur Godfrey’s DC-3

This is actually an Arthur Godfrey/Eddie Rickenbacker story. Godfrey was an experienced pilot. He got his pilot’s license in 1929. His plane, a decked-out DC-3, was a gift from his friend, Eddie Rickenbacker, World War I flying ace and president of Eastern Air Lines. Godfrey regularly flew the plane from his farm in Leesburg, Virginia to work in New York City.And, he flew it to Saratoga, Wyoming several times staying at my folks resort, The Saratoga Inn.  Godfrey had met my Dad a few times in the early days.  He stayed at our place once during WWII when he was coming thru Cheyenne as a Navy pilot flying an R-4D.I met him several times when I was a kid in the 50s and had the GREAT fortune to fly with him from Saratoga to Cheyenne to get gas (before Shively Field had fuel facilities).  He flew the DC-3 single-pilot, but gave me the controls airborne.  I was absolutely in my element!  From the get-go I would rather be a pilot than a cowboy or Indian.  

Twice, Godfrey brought Eddie Rickenbacker (along with Pat Boone and the McGuire Sisters). I went swimming with Pat Boone & the McGuire Sisters in the Inn’s pool.  I’d soon find out that they were famous vocalists.  Splashing and laughing, they were just regular folks having a good time out of the limelight… Eddie was a hero to many from his exploits as a WWI pilot.  I told Duthie, “Likely, he’ll be yours as well after you read his book!”  Capt’n Eddie and Godfrey were very close friends as I would learn and learn as well that Rickenbacker actually gave that DC-3 to Godfrey!  

Rickenbacker not only gave the surplus Eastern Airlines DC-3 to Godfrey, he put DC-4 (P&W R-2000) engines on it!  This produced a huge performance upswing!  

The most common DC-3 engine was the P&W 1830-92 engine.  The R-2000 produced 1,450 HP VS 1,200 HP.   Apparently, the R-2000 is an outgrowth of the 1830 and used the same engine mounts!

The Old Redhead had a controlling personality and famous temper. He was known for buzzing the tower at airports that did not give him the runway he wanted, but he didn’t have that problem in Saratoga. There was no tower and only one runway.  It would be in 1955 or 56 that my Dad put in runway lights.  Fuel would come later.I would learn about another flight Godfrey made to visit LBJ.  

This is really an aside to telling an Eddie Rickenbacker story. Had Eddie not given his pal Arthur that ol’ DC-3 some really cool flyin’ stories would be absent from history.  Arthur had other airplanes as well.  I remember him telling about his Navion and a Bonanza.  I think he may have even owned a Twin-Navion but ain’t sure.I really n’joyed being able to meet and even visit some with Capt’n Eddie.  He was very gracious and told me some stories about his own mentor, Raul Lufberry, who likely would have ended up the American Ace-of-Aces had he not been shot down, leaping to escape the inferno, to his death with 17 kills to his record.  Rickenbacker credits Lufberry with teaching him the tactics enabling him to return credited with 26 kills.  

Later, I would sell his son, Bill Rickenbacker, a Cessna 210.  Like his famous Dad, Bill was a pilot. He flew transports during the Korean War.

Cheryl and I flew the 210 from Arizona to White Plains, NY.  Rickenbacker met us.  It took hardly any time to take care of the paperwork. Then, we had a lunch at his apartment, in Greenwich, before dropping us at the train station.  Bill and his wife, Alexandria, were going skiing in Vermont and insisted that Cheryl and I stay at their place with the only request that we eat carefully at the table (that had been George Washington’s)!  They had tickets for us to see a play off-Broadway starring Charles Nelson Reilly. Sadly, Bill Rickenbacker died young at age 67 in 1995.

More memorable than the play was that everyone, even the cab drivers, were nice. We’d heard stories on the NYC rudeness. Cheryl and I found the opposite to be true. Later, when I was based at JFK with JetBlue we confirmed our initial impression.

Cheryl and I enjoyed the play and rode the train back.  We got off and, with my excellent ability to know directions, promptly were lost.  I had neglected to realize that when we arrived we were opposite the place where we had left!  We wandered around for seemingly a long time when a patrol car pulled up.  We described our plight and the astonishing fact that, while we had the key to the Rickenbacker apartment, we failed to jot down the address!  To the police station we went.  Soon, we were underway with this very nice cop taking us directly to the Rickenbacker’s. Later, I sent an “Orchid Letter” to the Greenwich police chief extolling the graciousness of his officer.

 I was especially amazed that Bill Rickenbacker would entrust, not only his apartment, but his father’s impressive heirlooms to complete strangers.  There were several gold trophies nearly as tall as a pony!  His MOH plus DSC’s (7), Medal for Merit – Legion of Honor, Criox de Guerre along with the National Aeronautics Associations awards such as the Elder Statesman of Aviation in 1955.  My father received this award in 1992. 

Circa 1955, Godfrey flew from Virginia to the Texas Hill Country to visit his old friend, Senator Lyndon Johnson. LBJ was laid up at his Ranch convalescing from a heart attack.  The Washington Post reported that Godfrey made an earlier trip to the LBJ Ranch at the request of Godfrey’s friend, controversial Air Force General Curtis LeMay. Godfrey, an outspoken proponent of aviation, went down to Stonewall to see “Lyndon” to lobby the senator for support of the B-52 bomber, one of General LeMay’s pet projects. My Dad said “The Ol’ Redhead” was so well connected and a genius at making things happen.

After landing at the Gillespie County Airport in October 1955, Godfrey spent the night at the LBJ Ranch; he then returned to the airport the next day. By the time he arrived it was late afternoon and darkness was falling.As Godfrey prepared to take off, he asked an attendant if the airport had landing lights. When told the airport had no lights, Godfrey responded, “I’ll send you some.”On Valentine’s Day 1956, several large crates arrived at the Gillespie County Airport addressed to Senator Lyndon B. Johnson from Arthur Godfrey, Leesburg, Virginia. The crates held a complete set of landing lights.After electricians installed the lights, county officials gathered at the airport to throw the switch. Senator Johnson was on hand for the ceremony.

In addition to being an entertainer and a pilot, Arthur Godfrey was a conservationist and a student of ecology. He spoke to groups all over the United States about the deterioration of the environment. He wrote three books on the subject.His interest in the environment, and his long friendship with President Johnson and Lady Bird, brought him back to Gillespie County in October 1972. He flew in from Virginia as the guest of honor at Mrs. Johnson’s Highway Beautification Award ceremony at LBJ State Park.After the ceremony, and the obligatory Hill Country barbecue at the LBJ Ranch, Godfrey and the President talked about Godfrey’s visit to the Hill Country 17 years earlier. Godfrey was pleased to learn that his gift to the Gillespie County Airport was still is use.The two men talked about the night Godfrey’s lights probably prevented a tragedy.Not long after Gillespie County installed the lights back in 1956, a student pilot training at a San Antonio airfield got lost in the dark, spotted the lights and made a safe landing. There is a good chance the pilot would have crashed had the lights not been installed.The story made news nationwide after Godfrey told it on the air to his radio audience.Senator Johnson placed the story of Arthur Godfrey’s lights and the emergency landing at Gillespie County Airport in the Congressional Record.

Commander Arthur Morton Godfrey
(Retired with the rank of Colonel from the Air Force Reserve)

USN / USCG / USNR / USAFR

USN 1920-1924
USCG 1927-1930
USNR 1939-1954
USAFR 1954-1972


Entertainer, popular radio/tv host for 30 years, minor roles in four films. Inductee, Radio Hall of Fame 1988. Avid flyer and aviation proponent; pilot license in 1950. USN service as radio operator 1920-24, USCG 1927-30; a USNR Cdr, he could fly most everything in the fleet during the ’50s, even qualified for carrier operations. At the request of General Curtis Lemay, and with DOD approval, he transferred to USAFR as full Colonel. Well-known was his DC-3, a gift from Eddie Rickenbacker and Eastern Air Lines as thanks for his aviation booster activities.

Arthur Morton Godfrey (August 31, 1903 – March 16, 1983) was an American radio and television  broadcaster and entertainer who was sometimes introduced by his nickname, “The Old Redhead”.

Godfrey was born in New York City in 1903. By 15 he was a civilian typist at Camp Merritt, New Jersey and enlisted in the Navy (by lying about his age) two years later.

Godfrey served in the United States Navy from 1920 to 1924 as a radio operator on naval destroyers, but returned home to care for the family after his father’s death. Additional radio training came during Godfrey’s service in the Coast Guard from 1927 to 1930. He passed a very stringent qualifying examination and was admitted to the prestigious Radio Materiel School at the Naval Research Laboratory, graduating in 1929. It was during a Coast Guard stint in Baltimore  that he appeared on a local talent show and became popular enough to land his own brief weekly program.

He knew President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who listened to his Washington program, and through Roosevelt’s intercession, he received a commission in the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1939.

Aviation

Godfrey learned to fly in the 1930s while doing radio in the Washington, D.C. area, starting out with gliders, then learning to fly airplanes. He was badly injured on his way to a flying lesson one afternoon in 1931 when a truck, coming the other way, lost its left front wheel and hit him head on. Godfrey spent months recuperating, and the injury would keep him from flying on active duty during WWII. He served as a reserve officer in the U.S. Navy in a public affairs role during the war.

As a reserve officer, he used his public position to cajole the Navy into qualifying him as a Naval Aviator at Pensacola in September 1950, and played that against the United States Air Force, who later successfully recruited him into the Air Force Reserve. At one time during the 1950s, Godfrey had flown every active aircraft in the military inventory.

He was certified to fly virtually every type of aircraft in existence during his lifetime (rotor, jet, multiple engine, helicopter, holding FAA type ratings from the DC-3 to the Constellation) and was an honorary pilot for Eastern Airlines. He  Navy  certificates included: carrier pilot, jet and helicopter pilot and held the coveted ‘Naval Aviator Green Ticket’ instrument rating.

By the 1960’s Godfrey was listed as a Colonel in the USAF Reserves.

Was an avid amateur (ham) radio operator with the call sign K4LIB. This call is now owned by the Arthur Godfrey Fan Club, which runs an annual ham event in honour of his memory.

Don’t forget to check out the Larry Duthie KIA story!https://captainbillywalker.com/war-stories/larry-duthie-kia-67/

In case you missed this story, and it’s been around a while, here’s “The Old Man and the bucket of shrimp:” I didn’t write the following, I don’t know who did? I just copied it for your viewing pleasure…

Old Eddie

It happened every Friday evening, almost without fail, when the sun resembles a giant orange and is starting to dip into the blue ocean.

Old Ed comes strolling along the beach to his favorite pier. Clutched in his bony hand is a bucket of shrimp.

Ed walks out to the end of the pier, where it seems he almost has the world to himself. The glow of the sun is a golden bronze now. Everybody’s gone, except for a few joggers on the beach. Standing out on the end of the pier, Ed is alone with his thoughts….and his bucket of shrimp.

Before long, however, he is no longer alone. Up in the sky a thousand white dots come screeching and squawking, winging their way toward that lanky frame standing there on the end of the pier. Before long, dozens of seagulls have enveloped him, their wings fluttering and flapping wildly. 

Ed stands there tossing shrimp to the hungry birds. As he does, if you listen closely, you can hear him say with a smile, ‘Thank you. Thank you.’

In a few short minutes the bucket is empty. But Ed doesn’t leave. He stands there lost in thought, as though transported to another time and place. Invariably, one of the gulls lands on his sea-bleached, weather-beaten hat – an old military hat he’s been wearing for years.

When he finally turns around and begins to walk back toward the beach, a few of the birds hop along the pier with him until he gets to the stairs, and then they, too, fly away. And old Ed quietly makes his way down to the end of the beach and on home.

If you were sitting there on the pier with your fishing line in the water, Ed might seem like ‘a funny old duck,’ as my dad used to say. Or, ‘a guy that’s a sandwich shy of a picnic,’ as my kids might say. To onlookers, he’s just another old codger, lost in his own weird world, feeding the seagulls with a bucket full of shrimp.

To the onlooker, rituals can look either very strange or very empty. They can seem altogether unimportant….maybe even a lot of nonsense. Old folks often do strange things, at least in the eyes of Boomers and Busters. Most of them would probably write Old Ed off, down there in Florida.

That’s too bad. They’d do well to know him better. His full name was: Eddie Rickenbacker. He was a famous hero back in World War I, earning the French Croix de Guerre and the coveted U.S. Medal of Honor. During a mission he undertook for the government during WW II, the four-engine B-17 bomber on which he was a passenger went off course and ran out of fuel at sea.

He and his seven-member crew went down. Miraculously, all of the men survived, crawled out of their plane, and climbed into a life raft. Captain Rickenbacker and his crew floated for days on the rough waters of the Pacific. They fought the sun. They fought sharks. Most of all, they fought hunger. By the eighth day their rations ran out. No food. No water. They were hundreds of miles from land and no one knew where they were. They needed a miracle.

That afternoon they had a simple devotional service and prayed for a miracle. They tried to nap. Eddie leaned back and pulled his military cap over his nose. Time dragged. All he could hear was the slap of the waves against the raft.

Suddenly, Eddie felt something land on the top of his cap. It was a seagull! Old Ed would later describe how he sat perfectly still, planning his next move. With a flash of his hand and a squawk from the gull, he managed to grab it and wring its neck. He tore the feathers off, and he and his starving crew made a meal – a very slight meal for eight men – of it. Then they used the intestines for bait. With it, they caught fish, which gave them food and more bait……and the cycle continued.

With that simple survival technique, they were able to endure the rigors of the sea until they were found and rescued. (after 24 days at sea…)

Eddie Rickenbacker lived many years beyond that ordeal, but he never forgot the sacrifice of that first lifesaving seagull. And he never stopped saying, ‘Thank you.’ That’s why almost every Friday night he would walk to the end of the pier with a bucket full of shrimp and a heart full of gratitude.

PS: He went on to be a race car driver, an aviation consultant and airline executive. Rickenbacker was not the founder of Eastern Airlines but was very influential in the General Motors acquisition of Eastern Air Transport, a compilation of North American Aviation and Pitcair Aviation Company that was owned by Clement Keyes. When General Motors acquired the company from Keys they renamed it to Eastern Air Lines. In January of 1934 Rickenbacker began his term as general manager for Eastern Air Lines and later served as the company’s president and Chairman.