The story of how a seagull saved the life of America’s greatest fighter pilot

Plus – March 11 Zoom meeting on August trip to Baltics

Edward V. Rickenbacker stands next to his Nieuport 28 in a field near Toul, France. (National Archives)

Several months ago I led communion service at my church. To introduce the service, I shared an anecdote about Eddie Rickenbacker’s life-giving encounter with a seagull. It’s a fascinating and true story.

Captain Eddie Rickenbacker was a legendary war hero.

Born in 1890, he was in his 20’s when WW1 began. He persuaded Army leadership to allow him to train as one of the first pursuit fighter pilots. He became one of the most successful pilots in military history — known as America’s “Ace of Aces.” 

As a result of repeatedly attacking enemy aircraft alone or outnumbered, in his first six months as a pilot he shot down 26 German aircraft, which was a record that stood until the later part of WW2. 

For his service in the war, he received the Congressional Medal of Honor and a record eight Distinguished Service Crosses, as well as the Legion of Honor and the Croix de Guerre by France.

When World War II began, Rickenbacker was eager to serve his country once again.  

Too old to fly, he toured the country recruiting and inspiring pilots and became a special envoy for President Roosevelt. One of his assignments from the President was to deliver a secret message to General Douglas MacArthur who was in New Guinea.

In route to New Guinea, the B-17 on which Rickenbacker was a passenger had a malfunction in its navigation system, got lost over the Pacific Ocean, ran out of fuel, and ditched at sea. For 24 days, Rickenbacker and seven other crew members lived in a small rubber life raft. Food ran out in three days. One man died and the others began to slowly waste away.

Then, a miracle happened. 

On the eighth day of being lost at sea, following a brief worship service, Rickenbacker leaned against the side of the raft and drifted into sleep. We was awakened by the feel of a seagull that had landed on his head. He reached up and grabbed the bird and it became both dinner for the men, and fishing bait. They ate the bird and fished with what was left. In the next 16 days – until they were rescued – they lived off of the fish they caught using the bird’s bones as hooks.

Captain Rickenbacker never forgot that moment – how that one bird appeared, lifted their spirits and saved them, emotionally and physically. 

In his old age (he lived to age 82), Rickenbacker lived on the east coast of Florida. In the final years of his life he created a personal tradition—a routine that would remind him of the event that happened 52 years earlier, when the seagull saved his life. 

He would walk down to the pier with a bucket of shrimp and slowly and methodically feed the seagulls. It was a time of reflection; a time of gratitude, and a time of remembrance.

Years ago, radio announcer Paul Harvey summarized the story by saying this: “Rickenbacker never forgot that incident. Every Friday evening, about sunset, on a lonely stretch along the Eastern Florida seacoast, you could see an old man walking, white haired, bushy eye-browed, silently bent, his bucket filled with shrimp to feed the sea gulls, to remember one bird, on a day long past, that gave itself without a struggle.”

The following is also a true story.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus, the Son of God gave himself as a sacrifice for mankind. He died a cruel and undeserved death on our behalf. 

On the night before he died, Jesus and his disciples observed the Passover meal together. 

During the meal, Jesus changed the metaphors of the passover. When he took the unleavened bread in his hands he said “from now on this bread will represent my body which will be broken for you.” When he took the wine he changed it’s  symbolism by saying, “from now on this wine will represent my blood that will be spilled for you. Do these two things to remember me, and the sacrifice I made for your redemption and healing.”

So just as Captain Rickenbacker had a tradition to remember a significant event in his life, our Lord has given us a tradition that reminds us of the historical event that changed the world and our lives.

For the past two thousand years, followers of Jesus have met and set aside time to “remember.” This morning, we join with believers worldwide now and through the ages, to eat a small morsel of bread and sip a small amount of juice – not for the sake of sustenance – but as an act of remembering.”

Readers: The next time you participate in the Eucharist, use it as a moment to remember the sacrifice that Christ made on our behalf

Travel with Friends Information Meeting

Join me on March, 11, 7:00p.m. CST for a 45-minute information meeting on Zoom about the 2024 Travel with Friends trip to the Baltic Sea and Northern Europe.

We’ll discuss the itinerary, accommodations, and ports of calls. The Q&A will answer all your questions. If you want to attend, let me know and I’ll send you an invitation. You can download Zoom for free. You can also participate via a conference call using your mobile phone.

Here’s the brochure that we’ll discuss. Baltic-Sea-Trip-2024-Brochure-110823-Fillable

If you want to attend, email me at [email protected] or call me at 214.783.4414


When greatness and humility meet

Expressions of arrogance and pride are distasteful, almost comical.
Expressions of humility and modesty are attractive and honorable.

I am deeply moved by people who are both great and humble.

    • I have a friend who is President of a private bank. When he introduces himself in public he says, “My name is _______ and I work at _____ bank.” (He never mentions that he is president of the bank.)
    • I have a friend who was president of a major university. When he speaks of that time in his life he says, “For several years I served on the leadership team at ___________.” (He never says that he was president.)
    • I have a friend I knew for four years before I discovered he has a Ph.D. in geology from a major research university.
    • When asked about his profession, my son-in-law says he works in the healthcare industry, not that he’s CMO of a leading hospital in America.

These men and women are exceptional in their character, credentials, and experiences. They have accomplished a lot in life. But it takes time to discover their depth, because they are  humble. They have a lot more behind the counter than they put out on the shelf.

How about you? Are you eager to tell people what and who you know? When meeting people for the first time, do you quickly try to impress them with your credentials and experiences, or is your discloser slower and more subtle? Do you overstate or understate your strengths and assets? Do you hide your weaknesses and failures, or do you acknowledge them as a natural part of your life’s narrative?

I love the following story because it is utterly fascinating and, the protagonist exemplifies what I’m advocating in this essay.

The 17th century French mathematician Pierre de Fermat proffered a theorem that became the Holy Grail of math problems for the next 350 years: prove there are no whole-number solutions for this equation: xn + yn = zn for n greater than 2. Some mathematicians spent their entire lives trying to solve the problem; many thought it was impossible.

On June 23, 1993, Andrew Wiles—a quiet, unassuming professor of mathematics at Princeton University—stood before his peers at a conference in Cambridge and for several hours scribbled math equations on the chalkboard. Finally, he said, “I think I’ll stop here,” and put down the chalk. He had solved Fermat’s Enigma. With little fanfare, he had deciphered one of the most complicated problems in mathematics and then simply said, “I think I’ll stop here.”

He was understated and humble. Let’s follow his example.

If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room

Plus – information about Travel with Friends trip to Scandinavia in August

I recently took my nine-year-old grandson to his first chess tournament. On our way to the event, I coached Ben about what to expect. I told him he would play matches with kids who were much better than him and kids he would defeat. He would learn most from the former group. I shared the overused but beneficial phrase, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”

The phrase should probably read: If you’re always the smartest person in the room, you’re probably in the wrong room, because sometimes you are the smartest person in the room and there’s nothing wrong with that. But when you’re consistently the best person in a particular area, you’re probably not challenging yourself enough or learning from others.

So if you’re always the best tennis player in your league, move to a better group. If you’re always the best architect in your firm, go to more conferences. If you’re always the best leader in your organization, hire a coach who can take you to a higher level. Because the best way to improve at something is to be around people who are better than you.

It’s beneficial to intentionally place yourself in environments in which you’re a novice; you feel uncomfortable, awkward, even inadequate. I felt that way when I studied for advanced certifications in wine education. When I started, I knew nothing about wine, but purposely studied with Master Sommeliers and Masters of Wine. I never reached their level of expertise, but I grew rapidly.

When was the last time you were on the left side of the bell curve?

Travel with Friends trip to Scandinavia – August 13-29

On the 2024 Travel with Friends trip, we’ll circumnavigate the Baltic Sea. Northern Europe is one of the most pristine areas of the world. The scenery is spectacular and the cultures are interesting and accommodating.

Together, we’ll explore: Amsterdam (one of the great cities in the world), Berlin, Gdansk-Poland (where WW2 started), Stockholm (including the place where Nobel Prizes are given), Tallin-Estonia (one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe), Copenhagen-Denmark (awarded 2023 World Capital of Architecture by UNESCO), and other places.

Here’s the brochure. Baltic-Sea-Trip-2024-Brochure-110823-Fillable

Contact me if you’re interested. [email protected] – 214.783.4414

Enjoy little things, for someday you may look back and realize they were the big things

The famous biographer James Boswell (known best for his acclaimed biography of Samuel Johnson) spoke often of a special childhood memory—a day spent fishing with his dad. Even as an adult, Boswell would reminisce about the time, citing the many things his father taught him during the hours together. 

Many years later, after both James and his dad had passed away, the older man’s journals were found. Someone looked up what he had written in his diary on the day that had meant so much to his son.

The father had written, “Gone fishing today with my son; a day wasted.”

What can we learn from this anecdote? 

      • Don’t underestimate the potential impact of time spent with other people. Even though you may not be a famous person (James’ father was not), a small kindness or time spent with others can deeply affect their lives. 
      • You may never know the impact you have on other people—they may not tell you and you would not suspect it—but acts of kindness are always appropriate and usually bear fruit. 
      • Though several people are experiencing the same thing, each will see and interpret it differently. For instance, though multiple people may enter the same room at the same time, their experiences may differ drastically. When an interior designer and a security expert enter the same room, they likely will have vastly different thoughts. Let’s not be quick to judge the elder Boswell, because we don’t know the back-story of that day. I can only imagine that he would have been pleased to know how much his son enjoyed their day together.  

My biggest take away from this anecdote is that I’m going to slow down my pace and spend more quality time with family and friends.