Lindbergh and the “Nazi Medal”
On October 18, 1938, at dinner party at the American Embassy in Berlin, Nazi Air Minister Hermann Goering presented the guest of honor, Charles A. Lindbergh, with a surprise gift: the “Verdienstkreuz der Deutschen Adler,” or “Service Cross of the Order of the German Eagle.” He actually received two identical medals: one in a leather case, one on a silk ribbon. The elegant medal–a Maltese cross surrounded by eagles and swastikas–was awarded principally to foreigners who, incidentally, were also considered sympathetic to the Third Reich. Among other recipients were Generalissimo Francisco Franco, Thomas Watson (the head of IBM), and automobile magnate (and notorious anti-Semite) Henry Ford.
Charles A. Lindbergh’s “Nazi medal,” as it was quickly and exclusively called in the press, proved to be, in Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s own words, “an albatross.” He was roundly and harshly criticized for even accepting it, though simple decorum would seem to have militated against such a breach in etiquette, or returning it after the US entered the war against the Axis. Lindbergh–a master of conflict-avoidance, compartmentalization, and disregard for public approbation–simply put the incident out of his mind and sent the medal to the Missouri Historical Society in St. Louis, the repository of all of the honorific objects and awards he had received since 1927. After being tucked away in storage for decades, it was put on display there in a major exhibit in 2002 after a careful vetting of the issue with the local Jewish community and other groups. Along with the rest of the exhibit, the medal is being removed from display for conservation and storage later this month.
Equally interesting, I’d argue, that the US Embassy Berlin was in Oct 1938 hosting an official dinner with Goering as invited guest. So he hands out medals? If he hadn’t been in attendance this incident wouldn’t have happened.
It is too bad that during the war Lindbergh did not ask for that medal back from the Missouri Historical Society and then have it be “returned” to Nazi Germany via being wired to a bomb like those medals presented by Japan to US Naval officers were “returned” via fellow aviation pioneer Jimmy Doolittle’s raid on Tokyo in April of 1942.