We live in a world today where social media and the court of public opinion determines who is noteworthy in our society. We are a short-term people. What is hot today is old news tomorrow. We are driven by what the media tells us, right and wrong. Our icons today are reality TV stars, grossly overpaid sports figures, musicians that can’t play an instrument, or people who covet fame from YouTube.com. Our heroes are defined by pixels, their income, and their momentary popularity, more than by their accomplishments.
We weren’t always like that. In 1927 we chose our heroes differently – by their actions and deeds rather than TV ratings. Charles Lindbergh was such a man. He wasn’t the first person to fly the Atlantic, but he was the first to do it solo. He helped design the airplane for the journey, on that would take him across an ocean and into the history books.
Making such a flight alone was akin the madness. Several aviators, some of much greater repute, had already died making such attempts. In the Spirit of St. Louis, he didn’t have a life raft or radio to call for help. If he ran into trouble he was going to die.
Lindbergh was the antithesis of today’s public icons. He shunned publicity. The man merely wanted to achieve the goal, not bask in the glory. That was a big part of his great appeal. He was a boy from next door – everyman. In many respects he represented America at its best. He was a man that challenged nature and fate and won. Lindbergh harkened back to the American ideal of a pioneer and trailblazer.
One of my favorite movies is The Spirit of St. Louis starring Jimmy Stewart. Yes, there are some factual errors with the film, but it is the best representation we have of what that flight was like and the challenges that this supreme aviator faced.
In crossing the Atlantic solo, Charles Lindbergh changed forever the way we viewed aviation. Suddenly, overnight, the world became much closer, more connected.
Every time I visit the NASM I make a point to pause and look at The Spirit hanging in the main gallery. For a fleeting moment, I remember Charles Lindbergh and the daring he exhibited. In that second of time I wonder if we will ever again have such men in our nation, men that we don’t seek to bring down, but instead bring out the very best of us. In find myself longing for standards of men and women and go beyond the internet. I know I am a romantic at heart, longing for a sense of something that is intangible yet wondrous.
I wonder where our heroes are…