THOUGHTS OF TWA, THE LINDBERGH LINE
By Charles Dobrescu, as told to Emil Schoonejans



As aviation buffs as well as stamp and first day cover collectors, my wife Ruth and I had wondered sometime in late 1975 or early 1976, if there was a plan for our country’s U.S. Postal Service to issue a stamp honoring Charles A. Lindbergh for his 1927 solo non-stop flight from New York to Paris. Coincidentally, at about the same time a fellow member of the Friends of Nassau County Museum, George Dade, contacted us with the same idea. George, with limited knowledge of philatelic matters but a friend of Lindbergh, had been working on the museum’s planned Lindbergh Golden Jubilee Celebration and he of course, turned to the Dobrescu’s for help.

The fiftieth anniversary of that impressive event was only about 18 months away, and since Lindbergh was a former TWA employee, Ruth and I just had to excitedly jump into this with both feet.

We contacted the Philatelic Committee and informed that any individual, except for a U.S. president, cannot be commemorated until a minimum of 10 years has passed since death, and 1977 would be only three years since  the   passing of   the “Lone Eagle”.  They did say, however, that the

event could be commemorated, if not the man. Thus began a new project that we’ll never forget.

Ruth took some time off from her primary task of “Beautifying Glen Cove” (LI), and I took time from my City Council work and my back-up “Make-Nice” project of improving relations between Glen Cove and the co-located Russian Embassy (another tale entirely).

The Philatelic Committee’s suggestions were, first, write a petition and then collect supporting signatures. We began by going door-to-door in our neighborhood, then to social friends, church members, fellow TWA employees, various social club members and Ruth’s Ninety-Nines.

We took advantage of the Nassau County’s “Spirit of ‘76” three-day weekend air show, which ran from July 30 through August 1, 1976, by setting up a booth to solicit signatures. We garnered 3,240 that weekend alone. We also contacted local public officials and dignitaries for their support.

It was during this phase that I had Arizona’s Senator Barry Goldwater on one of my flights. During a routine walk-through of the cabin while in cruise, I stopped to chat with the senator. He was sewing a button on his suit jacket and I said, “Senator, I’ll have one of our hostesses do that for you.” He responded, “Oh no, I’d rather do this myself.” Here was a perfect chance to enlist a retired Air Force general to our cause. He was more than willing to sign and lend his personal support.

Responses from the many other VIP’s we contacted were similar to that of Senator Goldwater’s. We had the ball rolling and now it became a race against the clock while the Philatelic Committee reviewed the petition with its many thousand signatures, deliberating right up to the actual date of the 50th anniversary of that epic 1927 event.

During the hubbub of collecting signatures, Ruth and I were out of our home more often than in it. My mother-in-law, Mama Schill, who lived with us until she passed away in 1985, had her own part to play in our project. Aside from keeping our house “safe from tigers,” she was our warm-blooded telephone answering machine. A message she relayed to me one day was, “Charlie, a man called and said he is ‘trying to get the White House on board,’ does that make sense to you?” Another time she told me, “that man called again and said to tell you, ‘Chuck, still no word from the White House. Regards, Barry.’ I thanked him and said, I’ll tell Charlie.”

Senator Goldwater’s participation was an instrumental influence in having many other VIP’s get on board our increasingly sizeable bandwagon. The Philatelic Committee finally passed its favor on the issuance of a stamp to commemorate the historic flight, and the Postal Service issued a beautiful 50th Anniversary stamp.

TWA, once known as “The Lindbergh Line” for his many contributions to getting our fleet up and running, had its own separate celebration planned.  In order to honor both the man and the event simultaneously, TWA dedicated our 747 Flight 800, non-stop from New York to Paris on May 19, 1977. The management cockpit crew consisted of co-Captains Ray Schmidt and Jack Frier, and my good friend Flight Engineer Emil Schoonejans. Their boss, Flight Operations VP, Captain Roy Simpkins, gave them that assignment.

A CBS television crew, shepherded by Angus McClure, one of TWA’s energetic public relations staffers, documented the trip for the network’s appreciative audience. The symbolic flight, flown in just 7 hours and 5 minutes had taken “Lindy” 33 hours and 30 minutes in his single-engine Spirit of St. Louis. Video-recorded in-flight interviews with each of the cockpit crew were conducted, sharing their impressions of the enormity of Lindbergh’s accomplishment and it impact on modern aviation.

My friend Emil, 800’s flight engineer, who had helped us at the “Spirit of ‘76” air show the year before, obviously needed to cancel his plan to attend as our guest at the Long Island festivities, which was planned for the following day, as he still would be in Paris!

The Dobresu’s were there, however, and at 7:52 a.m., on May 20, 1977, 50 years to the precise minute, the sister-ship replica of the Spirit of St. Louis flew over Nassau County’s Eisenhower Park to open the “First Day of Issue” postage stamp ceremonies. There had been stiff competition for the ceremonial location. Understandably, San Diego wanted it as the home of Ryan Aircraft, the Spirit’s manufacturer; St. Louis for having raised the cash to finance the flight; and our team because this was THE PLACE where the historic flight was launched.

We won, and although Roosevelt Field today is one of the world’s largest conglomerations of shopping centers, the actual spot of Lindbergh’s takeoff is marked, not by a plaque on a wall in one of the shopping centers as some will tell you, but by an out-of-the-way but accurately situated modest stone monument behind the parking garage of the Fortunoff Mall.
The Postal Service informed us that the unofficial stamp distribution count at Roosevelt Field on May 20, 1977, was 1.3 million, with more than 400,000 stamp cancellations. Since a commemorative stamp can only be sold on the first day of issue at the actual First Day of Issue site (nationally the next day), this indeed was a remarkable feat by all involved, strongly rivaling the “Man on the Moon” issue of 1969 for popularity and distribution.

Speeches made at Eisenhower Park and that night at New York City’s Waldorf Astoria where Ruth presented Anne Morrow Lindbergh with the Amelia Earhart Medal on behalf of the Ninety-Nines.  TWA presented me with a Meritorious Achievement award.

The ceremonies were successful, meaningful and memorable, and when all those involved happen to meet and mention the event … there are smiles, nods and a special warmth that will never fade.
             
Charles V. Dobrescu (1951 to 1987) Mechanic, Flight Engineer and Captain at LGA