DEAR ABBY: The letter from John Zuckerman who witnessed Charles Lindbergh's landing in Paris recalled memories of my own exciting encounter with Lindbergh. It took place in the back pasture of my father's farm near Canton, Miss., soon after Lindbergh's famous flight. I was 17 at the time.
It should be noted that Lindbergh did not relish the publicity following his notable flight from New York to Paris. For this reason, he always tried to land in out-of-the-way places, alone and unrecognized.Late one afternoon, I was on an errand for my mother to a nearby neighbor's farm, and as I was riding my horse across the field, I was fascinated to see a small plane circling over our back pasture. As I rode closer, I watched the little plane dip down behind the trees, then land. As I approached, I saw a tall, lanky man tying down his biplane. Then he pitched a small pup tent under the wing. The plane sat in a small area completely surrounded by pines; we called it "the hurricane area" (a clearing left by a long-ago hurricane).
Three other local fellows arrived on the scene about the same time. One gentleman, Mr. Mead, asked, "Aren't you Charles Lindbergh?" He received no answer, but Col. Lindbergh handed Mr. Mead's grandson, William, a pamphlet describing the flight of the Spirit of St. Louis. Lindbergh refused an offer to take supper and spend the night at the Meads', saying he had to stay with his plane. Mr. Mead later took some supper to the plane.
During the night, we had a bad thunderstorm, causing the field to become very muddy. At daylight, I heard the plane's engine start as I was hurrying my horse to reach the spot. My family did not believe it could possibly be Mr. Lindbergh in the field, but nothing could have kept me from going back to the plane, which was a rarity to a country boy.
When I arrived, William and his grandfather and three other men were there watching Lindbergh prepare to take off. The mud created a problem, so he showed us all how to hang on tightly to both wings while he revved up the engine. We were instructed to let loose when he waved his hand. The plane shook mightily until, at his wave, we released our hold, and away it went, barely skimming the treetops as it took flight.
When I reported at school that day that Lindbergh had spent the night in our pasture, no one believed me, and I was labeled the biggest liar in school. However, the following day, the Jackson Daily News reported Lindbergh's landing in Meridian, Miss., at 8 a.m. the previous day for refueling. He did not reveal where he had spent the night; he just said he'd flown in from the west. What a great day I had showing the paper to everybody at school!
Many years later, while I was serving as a Marine aircraft mechanic in World War II, Col. Lindbergh came to our base as an adviser in converting our F-4U-1 aircraft engines to water-injection systems. I was appointed to receive his instructions, during which time I had an opportunity to ask him if he remembered that night in the Mississippi pasture. He said he remembered the boy on the white horse, that terrible rainstorm and the millions of ferocious mosquitoes that bombarded him during what he called the "worst night of my life." I, too, will never forget that memorable night. I met Lindbergh! - REA GILPIN, PINE BLUFF, ARK.
1990 Universal Press Syndicate