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Billy Fiske, American Olympian and RAF pilot

In plowing through stacks of saved magazines, I found a Smithsonian from 2012 devoted tho the London Olympics. Lots of good stories, including one about the origins of the modern games (see my Much Wenlock post for more on that). Another thread running through the Olympic history story (well-written by Frank de Ford in his inimitable style) is the story of dipping the American flag, or not, in the opening procession.

I won't go into the whole thing, but an shot-putter named Ralph Rose failed to dip the Stars and Stripes to King Edward at the first London Olympics in 1908. Whether it was out of patriotism or simple oversight is a matter of debate ( Mr . Ford clearly favors the latter) it became a custom supported by the notion that the "flag dips to no earthly king". But at the 1932 Lake Placid Olympics, American bobsledder Billy Fiske did dip the flag to then-governor Franklin Roosevelt, thereby becoming the last American Olympian to do so.

Fiske won two gold medals in his sport, in 1928 ( St. Moritz) and 1932, and also competed in 1936 (Munich). He married an Englishwoman and stayed in England after attending Cambridge. He managed to join the RAF by presenting Canadian papers, was hailed as one of the best pilots, and died in 1940 on a mission.

There is a memorial to him in St. Paul's, dedicated July 4, 1941. The article says it is in the crypt, not in the American Chapel behind the altar, a place I love to visit every time we are in London. It next time I will go look for the plaque in the crypt.

Take care and stay healthy, everyone.

Posted by
17 posts

Interesting info. It reminds me of a couple of things.

A few months ago, one of my favorite military history magazines had a story about a gentleman who spent some time in late 1939/early 1940 dodging the G-men. At the time, it was illegal to recruit US pilots to fly for France in WWII. Most of his recruits got stopped and sent home before they managed to leave the US, since they were not exactly security-minded, and the ones who did get overseas eventually found themselves in the RAF. The recruiter was assisted by a British cousin who had flown for the Spanish Republic, and later for Finland in the Winter War (evidently, an equal-opportunity opponent of totalitarians).

I have also read 2 books by Arthur Donahue, a US citizen who flew for the RAF in the UK and later in Singapore. If you are interested in such subjects, Tally-Ho! Yankee in a Spitfire covers the Battle of Britain (at least the later stages). Last Flight from Singapore covers his experiences in the Pacific, including an interesting part where he compares official communiques to reality (all planes returned from one mission was true, but some of them crashed as they landed, for example).

Posted by
5091 posts

Saw an item on Monday (2 days ago) that it was the anniversary of the first modern Olympic Summer Games. I was surprised to learn that Olympiad started in early April! Then again, Greece is a lot warmer in April than parts of the world where, for a lot of us, winter still has 2 months to go!

And something else I’d never thought about, but those 1896 Games was the first time, ever, that a Marathon race event took place. And was one by a Greek runner! Maybe home-field advantage? 😁