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April 3: World War I flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker calls for “Right-Wing Extremism” at Hotel Duluth

On this day in Duluth in 1965, American World War I flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker spoke at the Hotel Duluth. Rickenbacker racked up 26 aerial victories during the First World War, the most by any American pilot, and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. In April 1965 he was an honored speaker at the 75th anniversary dinner for Duluth’s Scottish Rite Masons. During his speech, Rickenbacker called for a return to the “right-wing extremism of our founding fathers.” At one point he said, “In defense of liberty, our founding fathers pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. There could be nothing more extreme than that.” If it seems that Rickenbacker was echoing Barry Goldwater’s speech of the previous year (“extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice”), well, that was likely intentional: Rickenbacker was extremely conservative in his views and strongly opposed communism, which that night in Duluth he called the “diabolical Mongolian philosophy.” He criticized “government bureaucratic controls” from preventing military leaders from “instructing our fighting men how to deal with the most vicious enemy this land has ever faced.” He also called the Korean War “the only war America has lost” and blamed that loss on the government for not allowing General Douglas McArthur to fight the way he wanted. Because of that, he went on, we now have “Chinese Communists and Russian Communists on our doorsteps from Cuba, Berlin, Laos, Viet Nam and Indonesia.” His entire speech focused on America’s apparent weakness in the face of the Red Threat. Before his speech, Rickenbacker visited the grave of World War II flying ace Richard I. Bong near his home town of Poplar, Wisconsin, and laid a wreath on his grave; he also visited the Bong Memorial in Poplar.