“Remembrance of things past.” In my mind’s eye, I can see it now: The unmistakable, gull-wing silhouette of a lone Corsair approaching the El Centro runway from the east, a fair distance out.
Jake Nevans and I were on the runway watch that day. In the shimmering heat, the manner in which the pilot maneuvered that F4U grabbed our attention. The entire landing procedure was flawless. Perfectly controlled. He came around in a tight, carrier approach with no wing adjustment at any point along the way, stalled the plane out tail first, inches above the runway, touched down, and turned off at the first taxiway. It was a masterful performance, although a complete departure from standard F4U procedure at that time, which called for landing tail high and touching the front wheels first. The standard TBF and F4F carrier landing procedure of stalling out with tail wheel touching first was considered too dangerous with the F4U.
The word spread quickly. The base was a buzz. The pilot of that solitary Corsair on that blistering afternoon in El Centro was my childhood idol, America’s legendary “Lone Eagle,” Charles A. Lindbergh.
Before Pearl Harbor, Lindbergh had worried over any American involvement in the European war. He became an outspoken leader in the “America First” movement, advocating steadfast neutrality. That put him in direct opposition to FDR and the president’s lend-lease policy. Controversy between the two men deepened. Following a scathing public attack by FDR that questioned Lindy’s loyalty to the United States, Lindbergh resigned his Army Air Corps commission in April 1941.
Pearl Harbor changed everything. Lindbergh realized that neutrality was no longer possible. The Axis powers had attacked us and declared war. Lindbergh applied immediately for reinstatement in the Army Air Corps.
President Roosevelt (a great man, one of our greatest presidents, but also a wily politician) made it clear there was no place in the Air Corps for Lindbergh. Personal appeals by Lindbergh to Air Force General Hap Arnold and Secretary of War Henry Stimson were fruitless.