History Articles

Col Eddie Rickenbacker's 1942 Pacific Mission

  • Published

By Jeffrey Michalke, AMC History Office

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, IL -- In the fall of 1942, Secretary of War Henry Stimson asked Colonel Eddie Rickenbacker, famed World War I flying ace and president of Eastern Airlines, to carry out an official survey of morale and aerial tactics in the Pacific combat theater. Accompanied by Col Hans Anderson, both traveled to San Francisco, California and then onto Hawaii by a Pan-American Airways clipper.

At Hickam Field, Hawaii, Seventh Air Force Headquarters assigned Col Rickenbacker a B-17 aircraft - due to be returned to the United States after having completed a tour of duty in the Pacific area - and a veteran Pacific ferrying crew.

On October 21, 1942, the Rickenbacker party left Hickam Field, Hawaii for Canton Island. After failing to locate the tiny coral atoll, their aircraft ran out of fuel and required an ocean ditching. A three week sea and air search ensued in efforts to locate the aircrew and Col Rickenbacker. Finally, on November 13, a U.S. Navy flier located the aircraft's pilot, Captain William Cherry, half-dead from exposure and starvation, floating on a raft in the vicinity of the Ellice Islands. Within two days, Col Rickenbacker and the remainder of the survivors were picked up in the same area.

After being hospitalized at Tutuila, Samoa for a two-week period, Col Rickenbacker insisted upon completing his inspection tour.  On November 29, Col Rickenbacker continued his inspection and completed the trip on December 17 when he landed at Hamilton Field, California.

The Narrative Report on Rickenbacker Trip and witness testimony can be read here.