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
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