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Reflections

Rickenbacker’s Story Of Survival Is Inspirational

By Charles Cooper

Hello everyone, hope you’re having a good week. Recently Jim Allen sent this story and I was so moved by it that I felt compelled to include it this week in its entirety.

Old Ed comes strolling along the beach to his favorite pier. Clutched in his bony hand is a bucket of shrimp. Ed walks 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 he is no longer alone. Up in the sky a thousand white dots come screeching and squawking winging their way toward the 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 and as he does, if you listen close you can hear him say with a smile, “Thank you, Thank you.” In a few 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 that 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 with him until he gets to the stairs and then they too fly away, and old Ed quietly makes his way to the end of the beach and on home. If you were sitting there on the pier, Ed might seem like a funny old duck or as some might say, “one sandwich shy of a picnic.” To the onlookers he’s just another old codger lost in his world feeding the seagulls with a bucket full of shrimp. Rituals can look either strange or empty.

They can seem unimportant, maybe even a lot of nonsense. Most of them would probably write old Ed off and stranger even in Florida. That’s too bad, because his name is Eddie Rickenbacker, a famous World War I flying ace. During World War II, while on a secret mission for FDR, he and his seven-man crew had to ditch in the Pacific.     

Miraculously all of the men survived and climbed into a life raft. Captain Eddie and his crew floated for eight days, fighting the sun and sharks and the hunger. By then the rations had run out and no one knew where they were in the vast Pacific.

They needed a miracle and in the afternoon they had a simple devotional and prayed for that miracle. Captain Eddie pulled his cap over his head and tried to nap. Time dragged and all he could hear was the slap of the waves against the raft. Suddenly something landed on the top of the cap. Captain would later describe how he sat particularly 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. They tore off the feathers and a small meal for each of the starving men. Then they used the intestines for bait and the cycle continued. With that simple survival techniques they survived for 24 days before being rescued.

Captain Eddie lived many years beyond that ordeal but he never forgot the sacrifice of the 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 of shrimp and a heart full of gratitude. This is my contribution: Captain Eddie had an eventful life beginning in the early days of the Twentieth century. Along with Louis Chevrolet and Barney Oldfield, they were the first famous racing car drivers.

He enlisted in the Army at the beginning of World War I and since he well known even then, he wound up driving General Black Jack Pershing’s automobile. He applied and was accepted in the Army’s flying school and later in France shot down over 25 German planes. During the twenties he was a barn storming pilot and in the thirties he founded Eastern Airlines.

I hope you were as moved by that story as I was and my thanks for Jim Allen for sending it my way. My email address is charlescooper3616@sbcglobal.net or write me at P.O. Box 613189 Memphis, Tn 38101 and thanks for you who have sent best wishes my way.

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