EXPLORATIONS -- a program in Special English by the Voice of
Today, Richard Rael and Shep O'Neal tell the story of one of
America's most famous pilots, Charles Lindbergh.
Charles Lindbergh is probably one of the best-known people in the
history of flight. He was a hero of the world. Yet, years
later, he was denounced as an enemy of his country. He had what
is called a "storybook" marriage and family life. Yet he
suffered a terrible family tragedy.
Charles Lindbergh was born in the city of Detroit, Michigan, on
February Fourth, Nineteen-Oh-Two. He grew up on a farm in
Minnesota. His mother was a school teacher. His father was a
lawyer who later became a United States congressman. The family
spent ten years in Washington, D-C, while Mister Lindbergh served
in the Congress.
Young Charles studied mechanical engineering for a time at the
University of Wisconsin. But he did not like sitting in a
classroom. So, after one-and-one-half years, he left the
university. He traveled around the country on a motorcycle.
He settled in Lincoln, Nebraska. He took his first flying
lessons there and passed the test to become a flier. But he had
to wait one year before he could fly alone. That is how long it
took him to save five-hundred dollars to buy his own plane.
Charles Lindbergh later wrote about being a new pilot. He said
he felt different from people who never flew. "In flying," he
said, "I tasted a wine of the gods of which people on the ground
could know nothing."
He said he hoped to fly for at least ten years. After that, if
he died in a crash, he said it would be all right. He was
willing to give up a long, normal life for a short, exciting life
as a flier.
From Nebraska, Lindbergh moved to San Antonio, Texas, where he
joined the United States Army Air Corps Reserve. When he
finished flight training school, he was named best pilot in his
After he completed his Army training, the Robertson Aircraft
Company of Saint Louis hired him. His job was to fly mail
between Saint Louis and Chicago.
Lindbergh flew mostly at night through all kinds of weather. Two
times, fog or storms forced him to jump out of his plane. Both
times, he landed safely by parachute. Other fliers called him
In Nineteen-Nineteen, a wealthy hotel owner in New York City
offered a prize for flying across the Atlantic Ocean without
stopping. The first pilot who flew non-stop from New York to
Paris would get twenty-five-thousand dollars.
A number of pilots tried. Several were killed. After eight
years, no one had won the prize. Charles Lindbergh believed he
could win the money if he could get the right airplane.
A group of businessmen in Saint Louis agreed to provide most of
the money he needed for the kind of plane he wanted. He designed
the aircraft himself for long-distance flying. It carried a
large amount of fuel. Some people described it as a "fuel tank
with wings, a motor and a seat." Lindbergh named it: "The
Spirit of Saint Louis."
In May, Nineteen-Twenty-Seven, Lindbergh flew his plane from San
Diego, California, to an airfield outside New York City. He made
the flight in the record time of twenty-one hours, twenty
At the New York airfield, he spent a few days preparing for his
flight across the Atlantic. He wanted to make sure his plane's
engine worked perfectly. He loaded a rubber boat in case of
emergency. He also loaded some food and water, but only enough
for a meal or two.
"If I get to Paris," Lindbergh said, "I will not need any more
food or water than that. If I do not get to Paris, I will not
need any more, either."
May twentieth started as a rainy day. But experts told Lindbergh
that weather conditions over the Atlantic Ocean were improving.
A mechanic started the engine of "The Spirit of Saint Louis."
"It sounds good to me," the mechanic said. "Well, then," said
Lindbergh, "I might as well go."
The plane carried a heavy load of fuel. It struggled to fly up
and over the telephone wires at the end of the field. Then,
climbing slowly, "The Spirit of Saint Louis" flew out of sight.
Lindbergh was on his way to Paris.
Part of the flight was through rain, sleet and snow. At times,
Lindbergh flew just three meters above the water. At other
times, he flew more than three-thousand meters up. He said his
greatest fear was falling asleep. He had not slept the night
before he left.
During the thirty-three-hour flight, thousands of people waited
by their radios to hear if any ships had seen Lindbergh's plane.
There was no news from Lindbergh himself. He did not carry a
radio. He had removed it to provide more space for fuel.
On the evening of May Twenty-First, people heard the exciting
news. Lindbergh had landed at Le Bourget airport near Paris!
Even before the plane's engine stopped, Lindbergh and "The Spirit
of Saint Louis" were surrounded by a huge crowd of shouting,
crying, joyful people.
From the moment he landed in France, he was a hero. The French,
British and Belgian governments gave him their highest honors.
Back home in the United States, he received his own country's
highest awards. The cities of Washington and New York honored
him with big parades. He flew to cities all over the United
States for celebrations.
He also flew to several Latin American countries as a
representative of the United States government. During a trip to
Mexico, he met Anne Morrow, the daughter of the American
ambassador. They were married in Nineteen-Twenty-Nine.
Lindbergh taught his new wife to fly. Together, they made many
long flights. Life seemed perfect. Then, everything changed.
On a stormy night in Nineteen-Thirty-Two, kidnappers took the
baby son of Charles and Anne Lindbergh from their home in New
Jersey. Ten weeks later, the boy's body was found. Police
caught the murderer several years later. A court found him
guilty and sentenced him to death.
The kidnapping and the trial were big news. Reporters gave the
Lindberghs no privacy. So Charles and Anne fled to Britain and
then to France to try to escape the press. They lived in Europe
for four years. But they saw the nations of Europe preparing for
war. They returned home before war broke out in
Charles Lindbergh did not believe the United States should take
part in the war. He made many speeches calling for the United
States to remain neutral. He said he did not think the other
countries of Europe could defeat the strong military forces of
Germany. He said the answer was a negotiated peace.
President Franklin Roosevelt did not agree. A Congressman
speaking for the president called Lindbergh an enemy of his
country. Many people also criticized Lindbergh for not returning
a medal of honor he received from Nazi Germany.
Charles Lindbergh no longer was America's hero.
Lindbergh stopped calling for American neutrality two years
later, when Japan attacked the United States navy base at Pearl
Harbor, Hawaii. The attack brought America into the war.
Lindbergh spent the war years as an advisor to companies that
made American warplanes. He also helped train American military
pilots. Although he was a civilian, he flew about fifty combat
Lindbergh loved flying. But flying was not his only interest.
While living in France, he worked with a French doctor to develop
a mechanical heart. He helped scientists to discover Maya Indian
ruins in Mexico. He became interested in the cultures of people
from African countries and from the Philippines. And he led
campaigns to make people understand the need to protect nature
and the environment.
Charles Lindbergh died in Nineteen-Seventy-Four, once again
recognized as an American hero. President Gerald Ford said
Lindbergh represented all that was best in America -- honesty,
courage and the desire to succeed.
Today, "The Spirit of Saint Louis" -- the plane Lindbergh flew to
Paris -- hangs in the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D-C.
And the man who flew it -- Charles Lindbergh -- remains a symbol
of the skill and courage that opened the skies to human flight.
This Special English program was written by Marilyn Rice
Christiano. Your narrators were Richard Rael and Shep O'Neal.
I'm Shirley Griffith. Listen again next week for another EXPLORATIONS
program on the Voice of America.