Ninety years ago today, a U.S. Air Mail Pilot gunned the engine of his single-engine aircraft down the muddy dirt runway of Roosevelt Field.
The pilot, just 25 years old, struggled to lift the aircraft—a veritable flying gas tank over-laden with fuel—off the ground. It made bounced off the landing strip several times before becoming airborne shortly before 8 a.m. He barely cleared the telephone poles at the field’s edge where Old Country Road meets Merrick Avenue.
But he was airborne, and on his wings—and in his heart—Charles Lindbergh carried the hopes, the dreams, and the aspirations of millions around the world.
In a small town in Ohio, a six year-old boy who everyone called “Bud” followed Lindbergh’s exploits, spellbound. Years later, inspired by Lindbergh, he, too, would take to the skies as a young air cadet in a time of war. Young “Bud” would grow up to be Colonel John Glenn, United States Marine Corps, the legendary astronaut of Friendship 7. His own heroic exploits would capture the imagination of a whole new generation.
In Indiana, Pennsylvania, a 19 year-old sat in his father’s hardware store, glued to the radio reports of Lindbergh’s progress, holding a model of the Spirit of St. Louis. Thirty years later, that young man, by then known the world over as Jimmy Stewart, would portray Lindbergh’s exploits in “The Spirit of St. Louis.”
[In Peoria, Illinois, a city where Lindbergh delivered the Air Mail to, the residents of that small Midwestern town stopped what they were doing and listened to the radio.]
Lindbergh’s flight from Roosevelt Field to Leborget Field outside Paris covered over 3,600 miles. It took 33 1/2 hours, mostly over the unforgiving Atlantic Ocean. Flying at just over 1,000 feet, Lindbergh battled fog, storms, and—most dangerous of all—fatigue, for he had not slept well at the Garden City Hotel.
The Atlantic had been crossed many times before Lindbergh’s flight, but no one before had ever crossed it alone. No one had ever successfully flown from New York to Paris, by himself, at risk of being lost forever in the vast expanse of the ocean.
Charles Lindbergh, “The Lone Eagle,” became the first man in human history to see multiple sunsets in a single day. He became the world’s first global celebrity the minute the Spirit of Saint Louis touched down outside of Paris. He changed the world.
Lindbergh was dragged out of the plane like a rag doll by Lindbergh loving Parisians. Thousands greeted Lindbergh at LeBorget Field; hundreds of thousands and in the streets of Paris. He was the most famous person in the world.
When he returned to the United States, he was a national hero, paraded through the streets of New York. Though barred by his age, “Lindy” was even touted as a presidential candidate. In the 1928 election, Hoover supporters touted the line, “If he’s good enough for Lindy he’s good enough for me.” In the months that followed his flight, Lindbergh visited all 48 States and visited 92 cities. Lindbergh would see and meet millions of Americans.
And Lindbergh’s flight was particularly important to me. Without it, my grandparents, Joseph and Lena Sackowitz, never would have met at a parade in his honor and I, obviously, would not be here.
Long Island launched Lindbergh’s flight, but Lindbergh’s flight launched our history as the “cradle of aviation.” Twenty years after Lindbergh’s flight, Long Island would build the carrier aircraft, with names like “Hellcat” and “Avenger,” that led America to victory at places like Coral Sea, Midway and Okinawa. Forty years after Lindbergh, Long Island would build the Lunar Module that landed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Moon in 1969. And five years after that, Long Island would build the aircraft that would strike fear into our Cold War adversaries and Middle Eastern terrorist alike; the F-14 “Tomcat,” the Navy’s principal air-superiority combat aircraft for over 30 years and the real star of “Top Gun.”
Ten years from today, we will commemorate the 100th Anniversary of Lindbergh’s Flight. Just two years from now, we will commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Apollo 11. And, sadly, we have lost our legacy of flight.
But it need not be so. I call on our elected officials to go “back to the future” to create a new birth of aviation on Long Island. It was the industry that fed, clothed, and sheltered tens of thousands of Long Islanders. It can be again.
I also call on our elected officials to ensure the continued preservation of the Lindbergh Site, our town’s most important historic landmark. As an undergraduate student in 2012, I fought to preserve the takeoff site as previously the site had no historical designation. Thanks to the support of people like Supervisor Murray, Councilman Santino, and Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, the site was designated a town landmark. Now, we should endeavor to designate this as a New York State Historic Site and I hope to work with Assemblyman Ra and Senator Hannon on legislation to do so. This site is Long Island’s “Kitty Hawk”; every bit as important as that beach in North Carolina.
I imagine one day there will be a visitor center and museum here that tells the story of not only Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight, but Long Island’s enormous contribution to aviation and space flight; a destination for space and aviation enthusiasts from throughout the world; an inspiration for the young “Bud” Glenns who will advance aviation and space travel in the twenty-first century. At the site of Lindbergh’s historic takeoff, our town, our state, our nation, and our word can look to the skies, reflect on the past, look to the future and dare as greatly as he did to advance the welfare of all mankind.
Adam Sackowitz is a graduate student at New York’s St. John’s University studying history and writing his thesis on the life and legacy of Astronaut and Senator John Glenn. He has lead efforts to honor both John Glenn in Ohio and Charles Lindbergh in his home state of New York.