Several readers have commented favorably on this article, so I present it as my 2015 Christmas message.
Americans know Ohio native Eddie Rickenbacker as a World War I hero. He was the ace fighter pilot of the Ninety-fourth Aero Pursuit Squadron and personally shot down twenty-six enemy aircraft. He was awarded the Medal of Honor and received many other decorations for bravery and service to his country.
Two decades later, Rickenbacker was over fifty years old and the president of Eastern Airlines, but he served his country again. In October 1942, he was inspecting air bases in the Pacific when his B-17 crashed into the ocean 200 miles north of Samoa.
Rickenbacker and seven other men survived. Adrift on three rubber rafts, they had four oranges, a little water, and two fishing lines–but no bait. One man died and the other seven suffered terribly from thirst, hunger, and heat.
One of the men had a Bible in his pocket and he and his fellow sufferers sustained themselves by reading aloud. On the eighth day, they prayed “frankly and humbly” and a seagull landed on Captain Rickenbacker’s shoulder. It became bait and the starving fliers caught some fish and survived for twenty-three days before they were rescued.
At the beginning of World War II, this was a special Christmas story. For those who reflect on it today, it is a reminder that faith will bring deliverance.
Captain Rickenbacker’s ordeal also becomes a metaphor for our lives, because we are adrift in a sea of ignorance, vulgarity, irresponsibility and genuine evil. If we pray for guidance in 2015, it will come as surely as it came to Eddie Rickenbacker and his crew in 1942.
Rickenbacker’s story is included in a magnificent book, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” This book, published by the Library of Congress, celebrates the spirit of Christmas during World War II.
“It would be a great gift for any World War II veteran,” reports World War II aviator Carl Leming. This book and dozens of other Christmas books for children and adults are available at the Jesse Stuart Foundation Bookstore, 4440 13th Street in Ashland, Kentucky or on our website jsfbooks.com Please stop by and I will be glad to help you select a meaningful book gift for a friend or family member.
Jesse Stuart Foundation business hours are 9am-5pm Monday-Friday, and noon to 4pm on the Saturdays between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
For more information, call (606) 326-1667.
Merry Christmas from your friends at the Jesse Stuart Foundation.