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Charles Lindbergh: A Hero's Fall in '41

CHARLES "LUCKY LINDY" LINDBERGH BECAME AN IDOL  to the world in 1927, when he made the first solo, non-stop flight 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean in a silvery plane he helped design: The Spirit of St. Louis. There were parades for him and songs written about him; the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Flying Cross were given to him by the President; and he became an explorer of the air routes and the U.S.'s ambassador Southward, appointed to fly throughout Mexico, Central America, and South America, spreading the goodwill of the United States.

But by 1941, the man President Coolidge called the "son of the people" was being asked by the public to return his medals. He was denounced by President Roosevelt himself, and his hometown of Little Falls, Minnesota took his name off the town water tower.

Lindbergh's troubles began after he and his wife left the country in 1935, in the aftermath of a three-year effort to punish the man who kidnapped and killed his son.

Asked by the U.S. government to report on the state of Germany's air force in 1936, Lindbergh visited Germany and became enchanted with Nazism. As a special guest of Hermann Goering, head of the German air force, the Lone Eagle toured fascist Germany, taken from one factory to the next, and sitting in the cockpit of the Reich's new bomber planes. "The organized vitality of Germany was what most impressed me," he wrote in his autobiography, "the unceasing activity of the people, and the convinced dictatorial direction to create the new factories, airfields, and research laboratories..." 

Field Marshall Goering also viewed Lindbergh as a hero, and presented him that year with the Service Cross of the German Eagle -- ornamented with four small swastikas -- for his services to German aviation. A month later, Nazis pillaged Jewish shops, killed dozens and arrested thousands on Kristallnacht, the "night of broken glass." Americans became increasingly uneasy with Lindbergh's friendship with the Nazis.

Back in the U.S., Lindbergh became the spokesperson for the America First Committee, a powerful isolationist group led by the head of Sears Roebuck. He wrote his own speeches, calling for Americans to stay out of the war. 

Lindbergh told his listeners the Nazi conquest of Europe was unavoidable. Americans, he said, should turn their attention to the threat posed by non-white nations. At the time, many agreed with his isolationist views, if not his belief in "racial strength." But as Germany invaded France and began bombing England, Americans were less certain that this is a war they should stay out of.

It was a 1941 speech in Des Moines, Iowa that toppled Lindbergh. Not far from an airport he dedicated in 1927, in a land that was once farms and cattle ranches, Lindbergh said it was time to "name names" of forces conspiring to get the U.S. into a war against Germany. "The three most important groups who have been pressing this country towards war," he said, "are the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt Administration." He said American Jews were a "danger" to their country, citing "their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government."

"These wars in Europe are not wars in which our civilization is defending itself against some Asiatic intruder...this is a question of banding together to defend the white race against foreign invasion."