Captain Edward Vernon Rickenbacker – America’s Top scoring Ace 1890 / 1973 Part 3
On May the 3oth 1918, he scored his sixth victory. It would be his last for three and a half months, he developed an ear infection in July which grounded him for several weeks and almost put an end to his flying career.
On his return to combat, he shot down Germanys new fighter the Fokker D.VII on September the 14th and another the following day. On September the 24th 1918, Rickenbacker, now a Captain, was promoted to commander of the Squadron. And on the following day he downed two more ,German planes, for which he was belatedly awarded the Medal of Honour in 1931 by President Herbert Hoover.
After claiming yet another Fokker D.VII on September the 27th, He joined the ranks of the balloon busters, downing balloons on the September the 28th and October the 1st, 3rd, 27th and 30th. Thirteen more victories followed in October, bringing his total up to thirteen Fokker D.VII’s, four other German fighters, five highly defended observation balloons and only four of the easier two-seater reconnaissance planes.
The military determined Ace status by verifying combat claims by a pilot, but confirmation too was needed from ground witnesses, affirmations of other pilots, or observation of the wreckage of the downed enemy aircraft. I no witnesses could be found, a reported kill was not counted. It was an imperfect system depending on the frailties of human observation, as well as vagaries of weather and terrain. Most Ace’s records are thus ‘best estimates’ not ‘exact counts’ but despite this Rickenbacker’s score of 26 remained the American record until WW2.
Rickenbacker flew a total of 300 combat hours, reportedly more than any other American pilot in the war, although I don’t think this figure would include the veterans who began service with the Lafayette Escadrille and the R.F.C.
Rickenbacker was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, a record number of eight times, one of which in the 1930’s was upgraded to the Medal of Honour. He was also awarded the Legion of Honour and the Croix De Guerre by France.
(C) Damian Grange 2018