Thirteen new voice mails. Quickly I start going through them. The last message is Di telling me that she needs my column. Before I can hear the whole message, I’ve got an incoming call. I exit voice mail to answer. It’s Bob Hoover. He says, “Jerry, I don’t have Forrest Bird’s phone number. After I presented Dr. Bird with the Freedom of Flight Award at the Legends dinner, I really didn’t get a chance to talk with him and I’d like to call him.” I said, “Of course, I’ll give you his number, but I do want to thank you, Bob, for making the evening so memorable.”
As we talked about that remarkable evening, Bob related a story about a black-tie event that he had been in charge of many years earlier. He explained that he was performing at an air show in Germany in the ’50s, and after the show, a man came up and wanted to talk to him. Bob said he really didn’t recognize him and no one else did either. He looked rather ordinary in a wrinkled, wool suit and felt hat. He introduced himself and asked Bob when he was going back to the States.
A few days later, Bob Hoover and his new friend sat next to each other on a Stratocruiser for more than 10 hours on their way to New York. Charles Lindbergh explained to Bob that he didn’t want anyone to know who he was—and certainly no photographs. Lindbergh was living in self-imposed obscurity and didn’t want to be recognized in public. Over the next few years, Bob and “Slim,” as Bob calls him, became good friends. Hoover would pick up Lindbergh at the airport whenever he came to L.A., and, over the years, their friendship grew. As president of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, Hoover asked Lindbergh if he would attend their annual black-tie event. Bob said, “Slim would talk about attending, but wanted me to agree to not allow any cameras. Of course, I couldn’t agree, as I couldn’t control people having cameras.”
As years passed, people became aware that Bob Hoover and Charles Lindbergh were friends. During Bob’s second term as president of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, Wally Schirra called Bob and pushed to have Lindbergh attend their annual event. It was going to be an evening honoring the Apollo 11 astronauts, and it would be the day after they were released from quarantine after returning from space.
Bob now felt that this was the appropriate time to boldly push Lindbergh to attend. Bob said, “Slim, everyone recognizes your great feat that is unparalleled in aviation history, but these guys will have just gotten back from a trip to the moon, and like you, they deserve recognition.” Lindbergh said, “OK, Bob, I’ll come with you to the event.”
When Lindbergh arrived at the hotel, he wanted Bob to take him right to Bob’s room. Bob had a suite of rooms and told Lindbergh that he wanted him to go into the living room to meet some friends before they went to the ballroom. Upon entering the room, Bob Hope’s photographer walked over to get a photo. Hoover quickly stepped in and asked him to please refrain from any photos, and Bob Hope told his photographer to comply. Hoover introduced Lindbergh to Contrad Hilton, his son Barron, Neil Armstrong and other special guests. Upon entering the ballroom, Lindbergh took a seat at Hoover’s table. Charles Lindbergh sat on one side of Bob’s wife, Colleen, and Neil Armstrong sat on her other side. The next morning, that photograph was published on the front pages of newspapers all over the world. Lindbergh later told his good friend, Bob Hoover, that he appreciated the nudge getting him out of his self-imposed obscurity. Lindbergh went on to give worldwide speeches on conservation and became one of our nation’s earliest and most vocal environmentalists.