This Day in History
Rick Nails a Drachen

Rick Nails a Drachen
September 28, 1918

As late as the summer of 1916, President Wilson campaigned for the presidency on the slogan that he had “kept us out of war.” The German U-Boat campaign of the next winter, plus the declining military fortunes of the Allies, persuaded him the United States would have to come to the aid of the Allies in order to save both freedom and democracy. On April 6, 1917, the Congress ratified his view. The nation was singularly unprepared for war, but for the most part shifted its industry to a war basis with remarkable speed and efficiency. The Navy got in the thick of the fight almost at once; and the first American Army contingents reached France in June 1917 and could march down the Champs Elysees on Independence Day - allowing Colonel Stanton to pronounce the historic words, “LaFayette, we are here.”

The military’s aviation program was, by contrast, a disaster; no American-built plane reached France in time to engage in combat. Meantime, eager young Americans had enlisted in the LaFayette Escadrille and, with United States entry into the war, a newly recruited American Air Force flew French and British planes. Among the American flyers who distinguished themselves, none caught the popular imagination more than “Eddie” Rickenbacker, who, as pilot with the 94th Aero Pursuit Squadron (the first U.S. squadron to go into action), shot down a total of twenty-six enemy craft. After the war, Rickenbacker had a long and successful career in commercial aviation and, with the coming of World War II, enlisted his talents once again in building up an American Air Force.

Mr. Künstler has pictured here Rickenbacker shooting down a German balloon, his 11th victory at Sievry-sur-Meuse on September 28, 1918. Rickenbacker’s own plane bears the “hat-in-the-ring” insignia adopted - and still retained - by the 94th Squadron. Uncle Sam’s stovepipe hat was tossed into the ring, inviting the enemy to battle.

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All illustrations by Mort Künstler. Text by Michael Aubrecht, Dee Brown, Henry Steele Commager, Rod Gragg, Mort Künstler, Edward Lengel, James McPherson, and James I. Robertson, Jr. - Copyright © 2001-2019. All Rights Reserved. No part of the contents of this web site may be reproduced or utilized in any form by any means without written consent of the artist.