We had just sat down to dinner in our home in Glendale,
California on an evening in November of 1927 when the telephone
rang. My father, a retired army officer, answered the call. On the
other end was Colonel Henry Breckinridge, Under Secretary of War
during President Woodrow Wilson's administration and attorney and
advisor to Charles Lindbergh. Lindbergh had made his historic flight
from New York to Paris earlier that year in his Spirit of St. Louis
and had returned to the United States to receive accolades only
a few now living will ever forget. I'm one of those few.
Colonel Breckinridge and my father were the closest
of friends. Both had distinguished military careers and each had
enormous respect for the other. So much so that when I was born,
I was given the name Henry Breckinridge Chenoweth. Colonel Breckinridge
called to say he and Lindbergh were passing through Los Angeles
on their way to San Diego and invited the family to spend a few
days as their guests at the home of Colonel E.S. Mahoney who owned
the airport in San Diego which is now Lindbergh Field. Of course,
my father accepted. The next day we were off to San Diego.
I was seven years old at the time. November of 1997
will mark the seventieth anniversary of an event so vivid in my
memory it is though it happened yesterday. The drive to San Diego
was uneventful but long given the absence of freeways. Our car was
a 1927 Hudson sedan which my father had purchased a few months before.
In those days, four door sedans were so roomy two small children,
one seven and the other nine years old, had no difficulty sleeping
comfortably in the back seat on long drives but sleep was out of
the question on this trip.
When we arrived in the San Diego area, Colonel Breckinridge
met us at a pre-arranged location for the drive to the home of Colonel
Mahoney. It was late afternoon by that time. We were shown to our
rooms to freshen up before dinner and to put our things away for
a two night stay. We were not to meet Charles Lindbergh until dinner
time. After what seemed to be an interminable length of time, actually
it was only an hour or so, we were called to dinner. My long wait
was about to end. My father and mother had counseled both my sister
and me to just be ourselves as though we were having dinner at home
with guests at our table. We both passed muster, for Lindbergh asked
if the family would like to see the Spirit of St. Louis the following
morning. It had been returned to San Diego from Orly Field outside
Paris some months after the transatlantic flight. I think that was
my first sleepless night.
After breakfast the next morning, my father, mother,
sister and I got into our Hudson and followed Colonels Breckinridge,
Mahoney and Charles Lindbergh in a separate car to the airport.
The Spirit of St. Louis was parked in a small hanger by itself.
Colonel Mahoney opened the hanger and there it was-the first airplane
to be flown solo across the Atlantic Ocean from America to Europe.
But the best was yet to come.
At seven years of age, the full significance of what
Lindbergh had accomplished was not known to me then. What was known
to me then happened shortly after we entered the hanger. It was
a longing to sit inside that airplane but I had been told I could
not ask. Lindbergh opened the door to the Spirit of St. Louis and
asked if I would like to sit in the cockpit. He placed his two hands
under my arms and lifted me into the airplane. I remember sitting
on a wicker chair with its legs cut off all but maybe six inches
or so which served as the pilot's seat. I remember there was no
forward vision, only side windows provided a view to the outside.
What I remember most is thinking that some day I too would become
a pilot. And I did.
A few days after we returned home, there appeared
an article in the Glendale News Press, our local newspaper, describing
our visit to San Diego and our meeting with Lindbergh. It was the
first and only time I saw Charles Lindbergh in person. This event
had such a profound affect on my life I cannot help but wonder why
parents don't go out of their way to create experiences the like
of which will have a positive and lasting affect on their children.
They all don't have to be Lindberghs. Any local person held in high
regard and is a person of accomplishment and is well respected can
serve as a role model. There are such people who would welcome the
honor and would be willing to give of their time if parents would
only make the effort. Then there are museums, libraries, churches,
parks for family picnics, sporting events and a host of other activities
and events, many at no cost, waiting to cater to America's youth.
But who will take them if parents don't? That's right. No one. It's
time some parents realize children make wrong turns and lose their
way in life for no reason other than a lack of sign posts from home.
H. B. Chenoweth April 1997