There IS No Absenteeism on the Battle Front


By CAPT. EDDIE RICKENBACKER, President of the Eastern Air Lines

Delivered at a joint session of the Legislature, Albany, N. Y., February 22, 1943

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 326-331.

WHAT a proud moment for all of us to revere the birthday of the Father of our country, whose spirit still leads us in these trying days in the fight for the life of this nation, which he founded!

In coming to you tonight, I am not unmindful of the exceptional honor, and I accept it not as an individual orpersonal tribute but as a tribute to a symbol to which I have contributed in my humble way.

The symbol that has made America great, inspired throughout the generations by our forefathers and which has woven its way through the history of these great United States like a golden thread, comprised of imagination, individuality, self-reliance, initiative and, last but not least, eternal but simple faith in the Supreme Being.

As all of you have either heard or read of my Pacific mission, there is little need of my dwelling on that subject with the exception of stating that after visiting with General MacArthur's boys in New Guinea, Port Moresby, Buna and Gona, I returned to Australia, and then through the Fijis to Guadalcanal, a veritable hell hole—as the rainy season had just started.

Henderson Field a Graveyard

Henderson Field runway is a metal strip that has been bombed and shelled for months, and is also the airplane graveyard of the Pacific not only for enemy planes but our own as well.

Dugouts were filled with mud and water. Men were working in jumpers without shoes or socks. Marines and soldiers were in the fox holes with billions of mosquitoes. Malaria was prevalent, as was diarrhea.

Here you will find a Catholic priest, Protestant preacher or a Jewish rabbi—all preaching the simple faith to Catholics, Protestants and Jews alike.

O! men and women of America, if you could only understand what our boys—your boys and mine—are doing in these hell holes throughout the Pacific and the burning sands of Africa, that your way of life may be preserved, and the character that has made this nation great may be carried on, you would not worry about eight hours a day—overtime— or double time for Sundays and holidays, for this is a life and death struggle for the welfare of this nation!

Without victory, social security, old age pensions, wage and hour bills will mean nothing.

France had her slow-down and sit-down strikes, had her social legislation—which I am not against—but they failed in the realization that without work and without producing something of value they could not last.

Captive Nations Called Serfs

Today they are serfs and slaves of Hitler's hordes. Millions of men, women and children are starving. That goes for Holland, Belgium, the Scandinavian countries, Bataan, Corregidor, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Philippines.

Accept your responsibilities with the privileges that you are enjoying. Remember patriotism without service is a hollow word.

Make this land your land, so that it will be a livable place for your children as it has been for you, and make it the right kind of place for your boys to return to. Recognize your obligation to the heritage you enjoy by being a citizen.

And to those five million aliens who have failed to accept the responsibilities of citizenship of this nation, but who came here to enjoy its fruits and privileges, apply tomorrow for your first papers and the responsibilities that go with them—if not, go back to where you came from.

Do not let those boys come back from their graves in these hell holes scattered throughout the Pacific and other parts of the world, and from the depths of the seven seas—do not let them come back and plague you for having failed in your obligation on the home front to give them more and more of everything that is needed to hasten a final victory.

New Self-Reliance Seen

For we have the need to conduct ourselves now so that we can look those others in the face when they come home again—those who live to come home.

I know you realize that I have said—and I say again—we have in the past several years spent billions of dollars to destroy self-reliance, initiative, imagination and individuality, trying to plan the lives of 130,000,000 people by a superior few. Now we are spending billions to recreate self-reliance, initiative, imagination and individuality.

For once you place our boys in a fox hole in the jungle of the Pacific, or on the desert sands of Africa, they are on their own. Once you have ordered our boys as commando troops to attack the enemy at night, they are on their own. Once you have dropped parachute troops behind enemy lines, day or night, they are on their own. Once you place a man in the cockpit of a plane and send him into a blue above, he is on his own. Once you put our boys into the tanks against the enemy, they are on their own. Once you put an officer into the front line, leading a group of our boys into the face of enemy fire, he is on his own.

It is imagination, individuality, self-reliance and initiative that are going to win this war for America not only on the field of battle but on the home front as well.

For bear in mind that when this war is over—pray God it will be soon!—there will be more rugged individualists come back to America from the four corners of the world than we ever had at any one time in our history—and I thank God for that!

Would Reverse Forces

As I have said before, if necessary to make us appreciate our duties, bring back the troops from the hell holes of the world, place them in the factories—take the war workers, particularly those single men without dependents from eighteen to thirty-eight years of age, and place them in the fox holes with the filth, vermin, diarrhea, malaria and the Japanese, and I will guarantee you that our production will be increased—and much of it doubled—within thirty days.

We would have no more feather-bedding—no more slowdowns—no more restrictions on effort.

The perpetual slow-down in war industry caused by absenteeism—particularly in the aircraft industry, where it exceeds an average of 10 percent—is probably the most flagrant abuse of our obligation since Pearl Harbor.

In the Boeing factory alone, the day following Christmas, twenty-six percent of the employes were absentees, and our aviators in those hell holes are crying their eyes out for only a few more Flying Fortresses.

In the Douglas plant there was an absenteeism of eleven thousand employes the day after Christmas—a shocking and deplorable condition.

It is not the loss of individual man-hours that is so deadly, but the accumulated loss of thousands of hours on the production line of other employes caused by individual absenteeism which, during the past year, has run well into hundreds of millions of man-hours.

No Absentees From Fox Holes

Cut this absenteeism in half and our fighting forces throughout the world will be grateful, as it will add sufficient planes and parts and other weapons for their use to hasten final victory and save the lives of untold thousands of our boys.

There is no absenteeism in the fox holes in the jungles of the Pacific or the burning sands or mud holes of Africa, for if attempted there they would get a bayonet in their bellies from their buddies.

We hear a lot nowadays about the shortage of manpower hours. It is not the shortage of manpower hours that is slowing up the badly needed production of our war weapons and supplies. No it is the shortage of productive manpowerhours, for, again, none of us is producing so much that we cannot—all of us—produce a little more.

There are still millions of old men and middle-aged women unemployed by war industries who would gladly and conscientiously contribute, if given an opportunity.

Give us back that old-fashioned American incentive and love of country, and we will produce enough war weapons to turn heaven and hell upside down on the heads of Mussolini, Hitler and Tojo.

For experienced production men—and thank God we have many!—know from actual results that those manufacturers who have retained the incentive plan report that their experience under actual production conditions prove to them that they would lose 50 percent effectiveness if their employes were on the straight forty-hour week and hourly rate. Further, these same manufacturers also report a noticeably lower absenteeism in their plants, than in plants where only hourly rate men are employed.

Wage and Hours Law Hit

Certainly, the experience of years of "know-how" by men who have been honest with labor should be worth listening to in this country's need of productive manpower hours.

Let our labor leaders become leaders in fact as well as name, and take advantage of the great opportunity that is theirs and ask Congress to repeal for the duration only that section covering the weekly hours of the Wage and Hour Law, but use the present hourly rate as a basis for pay or wages.

Why don't these labor leaders omit monthly dues and initiation fees now for the duration for all union members —particularly in view of the fact they have millions in their coffers.

Or better still, collect the dues and initiation fees and purchase war bonds for their membership on a monthly basis in order that they, too, can claim equality of sacrifice.

For, again, experience has proved that manufacturers in many industries, who are operating on the "incentive" plan are showing a conservative increase in production per manpower hour of at least 33 1/3 percent over those operating under the Wage and Hour Law.

This would give us an increase of 5,500,000 extra workers among the 16,500,000 now employed in manufacturing on a forty-eight-hour week without overtime. This increase in productive manpower hours would not only take care of the estimated 2,100,000 employes that will be needed to take care of increased war production, but would leave free 3,400,000 men, now on the payrolls in manufacturing, for farms or other needed essential services.

Some Figures Offered

For these unbelievable facts are true. If twelve men work ten hours a day instead of eight, they gain twenty-four hours—a day and a night. If 12,000,000 men work on the same basis they gain 1,000,000 days and nights.

Assuming 300 work days to a year, the total gain of those men in one day is 3,333 work years—the equivalent of 3,333 men working twenty-four hours a day for a year, or 10,000 men working eight hours a day for a year.

Those figures seem unbelievable—but they are true. Figure it out for yourself. Let the men who are walking out of war production plants at the end of eight hours of work figure it out.

The most valuable weapon we can develop is time—precious hours and days which will speed production of ships and planes and all the munitions of war. That is the biggestadvantage which Germany and Japan had over us—the time to prepare for war.

Time is the essence of our victory. That is why the enemy seeks to war on civilians—to destroy production time.

Men who destroy time by refusing to work are equally as effective in their result as a completely successful air raid by the enemy.

The hideous part of our time destruction is that it is being done by men who call themselves loyal Americans. They do not seem to realize that by their very acts they are putting themselves, their families, their liberty and freedom in peril.

Need for Time Seen

If they can't understand that, then a way must be found to make them understand. We must gain time.

For minutes are lives: They're falling—brave American boys—soldiers, sailors, marines and aviators—yes, even civilians.

And we think of them—when we think of them—as men killed in war. But back somewhere in a home some one has lost a father, a son, a husband, or a brother. Back somewhere hearts are broken; the complete and deadly total of all that war can do has been done to them. Perhaps you know some of them as friends and neighbors.

Those men are going to continue to fall and the sorrow will continue to spread until we do something about it. The longer the war continues the more boys will fall. That is the story of war. It kills, and kills, and kills.

Can't you see what it all means? Surely we are fighting treacherous, ruthless foes to protect our country and to preserve our liberty. But every hour of effort, every Defense Bond we buy, every bit of material we save, everything we do right now can be measured in lives.

Time—what we do now—that is the important thing. Every day we move closer and closer to victory, every hour we save—yes, every minute we cut from the length of the war—means lives, lives of our American boys—boys who will not be killed because the war will have ended.

"Some Boy" is Reviewed

What further inspiration do we need to do something about it—now?

For it may be "Somebody's Boy!" Somebody held him in her arms not so many years ago—dreaming her dreams about him. Now he's fighting grimly for his life against the treacherous Japs in the Philippines.

Somebody guided his first toddling steps—guided him safely to school. Now he's dodging death in a whirling plane as he drops bombs over Burma.

Somebody pridefully spoke of "his son"—watching him make a touchdown. Now he's running the gauntlet of Nazi subs—convoying ships to Europe.

Two somebodies watched him graduate—to start the serious job of his life. Now his serious job is a fighting marine—on a lonely Pacific island.

His name? It's "Somebody's Boy." His address? "Uncle Sam's Fighting Forces." He's out there "somewhere" on a battle line fighting—and dying—if need be—for us.

Somebody's prayers are following him—pleading that he may return. Maybe he will—maybe he won't. If he dies—he'll die for us.

He's "Somebody's Boy." Isn't that enough? Can we refuse to work to the limit—to sacrifice to the utmost—to buy war bonds until it hurts—to do anything and everything within our power to back him up?

What can we do that compares with all that "Somebody's Boy" is doing—for us?

Wants Labor Laws Clarified

Why should not our Congress show the common sense and intestinal fortitude now and clarify our labor laws so that millions of innocent men and women will have the same protection from our government as do the racketeers?

Let America come back to the fundamentals that made it great. Let us all be realists instead of emotionalists, sentimentalists or selfish, greedy human beings in this hour of our country's need.

Or must we wait until hundreds of thousands of the cream of our youth—sons, brothers, husbands and fathers—have been slaughtered and wrecked—mentally or physically—before we recognize our duty?

Yes, I am opposed to overtime pay for a forty-eight-hour week during this life and death struggle.

In times like these I do not approve of overtime pay for a forty-eight-hour week with present high wages except for those men in the fox-holes, swamps, jungles, deserts and the frozen North of the Aleutians and Iceland, for they are the men making the supreme sacrifice.

For there is little reason why those of us back home should not expend every effort and energy—if not for our boys in uniform, then—at least—to save our own skins.

Give the millions of honest men and women in this country an opportunity to do their best—they ask no more.

And to the labor leaders who are so prone to criticize so feebly, I say petition your government for the privilege of flying to the hell-holes of the Pacific and the battlefields of North Africa and see for yourselves as I have—then and then alone will I listen to you—for I have earned my right to citizenship.

Synthetic Communists Are Target

And to those few scumunistic, synthetic Communists in labor, commerce and government who are so prone to smear, I say go back to Russia where you will find millions of men and women willing to die and starve for their country in turning Hitler's hordes from their land—there you will find how transparent you are.

Or better yet, those of military age, get into Uncle Sam's uniform and pay your share of the obligation for the privileges you are enjoying. Go to the hell holes of the Pacific or the battlefields of North Africa and learn to use bayonets on the Germans, Italians and the Japs, where your smearing will do some good.

We hear a lot nowadays that in this war there must be "equality of sacrifice."

The phrase is false and demagogic—a hollow mockery. With what bitter laughter it must have been greeted at Guadalcanal, in New Guinea, and Tunisia.

What sacrifice can you or I, or any man or woman in America, make that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath with the sacrifice of the boys in the hell-holes of the Solomons?

Who dares to talk of sacrifice when he reads of the bodies of our young men being crushed under the weight of German tanks into the mud of Africa?

Yes, sacrifice by putting a little of your swollen pay into the safest investment in the world. Sacrifice by not taking your family out for a ride on Sunday afternoon. Sacrifice by keeping your home only ten degrees warmer than the homes of England. Sacrifice by agreeing not to strike, but, of course, you can stay away from the job as many days as you want.

Sees Freedom of Speech Waning

This is what you read in your daily newspapers, and hear on the radio, which will have its day of reckoning when the war is over and the boys come home.

We are fighting to distribute the blessings of freedom to every one—everywhere—all over the world. We are in a great and bloody crusade to export four freedoms, one of which is the freedom of speech.

Yet freedom of speech at home is rapidly diminishing. It is not being forbidden by law. It is not being crushed out by a Gestapo. No, it is being subjected to much more subtle restraints and pressures.

The Nazis and the Fascists long ago showed us the way to discourage unwelcome free speech. Strangle it by wrapping it in the flag. Smear it to death by crying aloud that it is an attack on the Fuehrer, that it gives aid and comfort to the enemy, that it promotes disunity.

This is the modern technique for getting rid of troublesome free speech.

Because I have protested against the abuses of a minority of the labor movement, it is charged that I am against organized labor. No charge could be more false.

My whole life record refutes it. The thousands of letters of thanks that I am receiving from men and women in the rank and file of the unions would be an overwhelming answer—if any answer were needed.

I am not attacking unions. I am attacking a cancerous condition in our body politic—the attempt to impose one code of conduct on the mass of Americans and a different special code for the benefit of the privileged few.

Labor "License" Attacked

The demand for real sacrifice is from the inarticulate mass of American fathers, mothers and daughters, while special privileges and licenses are granted to the labor racketeer, the labor profiteer and the labor loafer.

I say you cannot have national unity unless the leadership of the nation sets an example of unity, and that leadership should include industry, labor and government.

You cannot demand that the mass of common folk shall think only of winning the war if the aristocracy of labor unionism is thinking only of more dues and more power, and the inner clique of bureaucracy is thinking only of a fourth term.

Any administration that demands unity must begin by setting an example of unit. Any administration that talks of "equality of sacrifice" must honestly mean sacrifice by all, not sacrifice by the many for the financial and political advantage of the few.

I claim that I am a real friend of labor, and that the men who are attacking me are labor's enemies.

They are enemies of labor in the same way that a little clique of selfish men were the enemies of the New York Stock Exchange or the utilities. The number of crooks in Wall Street was small, but the vengeance of an outraged people did not discriminate.

Forces of the Future

The many, who were honest, were destroyed along with the dishonest few. And New York City has lost its great financial business.

New York City's population is shrinking—its stores and offices are vacant—hundreds of thousands of its people are out of work—all because honest business has been penalized in punishment of the wicked few.

The offenders among the utilities were comparatively few.

Yet billions of dollars of the savings of thrifty middle-class Americans have been wiped out of utility bonds and preferred stocks—because the sins of the privileged few were visited on the unoffending multitude.

What has happened to the Stock Exchange and the utilities is going to happen to the unions. The storm of public resentment is rising. If you want a measure of how fast it is rising just listen to the cries of pain and anger that come from the self-appointed labor leaders in reply to my public remarks.

They cry because they know that what I say is true. They know that millions of Americans are aroused, and when the long-suffering, patient American public is fully aroused woe to the men or the cause that has called forth its anger.

The racketeer is not something that just happens. He grows out of a rotten condition in public life. Al Capone was a thief, a gangster and a murderer. But Al Capone was not a cause. He was a result. He grew out of the greed and lust for power of a corrupt political machine.

There would have been no Al Capone if there had not been protection from the politicians of the city of Chicago and the State of Illinois.

Points to "Double Standard"

There would be no union profiteers, no union abuses, if it had not been made clear by our public authorities that there is today one standard of justice and public decency for the common man and another standard for the union few.

I speak on behalf of the millions of honest men and women in unions who want their unions to stand clean and respected before the bar of American public opinion.

I speak on behalf of the future leaders of the United States—our boys in Africa, in Australia, in Guadalcanal, New Guinea, the Aleutians, Iceland, England, China and India.

I say that this bloody war can be won only if we at home show that we deserve to have it won. Only if we have the intestinal fortitude to throw out the profiteers, punish the shirkers, and demand that there shall be a single, not a double, standard of justice in the United States—an even distribution of sacrifice on the home front imposed with a degree of political courage at home comparable to the moral and physical courage being shown by our men abroad.

And while I am on the subject, I noticed a few days ago the announcement of the declaration of the War Manpower Commission to twenty-nine occupational groups that even though they may be fathers of five or six children, they must find war-important jobs by Spring or face induction.

Here again I am shocked to find that our officials in Washington have omitted challenging a group known more commonly as labor racketeers of the "graft" age, and I spell it with a "G" and not a "D."

And I reiterate again that our Congress should see fit to introduce and pass such legislation to—first, upon his release or discharge, any member of our armed forces can be employed by any employer without having to join any organized labor unions. Second—upon his employment he shall have equal voting rights with any other employe in any union and any employe and management plan of the employer. Third—his seniority in relation to other employes of draft age should date as of the day he enlisted or was inducted into his country's service.

I definitely feel that our situation here at home is most serious, and by such legislation our Congress could free labor from those racketeers and parasites that are right now hindering the effort of our workers to do the best they can to win this war. Such legislation will insure all the membersof our services an equal opportunity right now as well as after this war is over with those who stayed at home in industry.

What better bonus could we give our service men than the elimination of their having to buy the right to work in their own country on their release or discharge from the service?

Why should they have to pay exorbitant membership fees demanded by those unions working under a closed-shop agreement? And what better bonus could we give them than to eliminate their having to pay dues for the privilege of keeping their job?

Briefly, why shouldn't a man's honorable discharge or release from the service of his country be all he would henceforth need as a union card when he returns to work for himself and his family after having worked for all of us so willingly and risked his life in our behalf? For there will be millions of young men returning home who have never had a job, or who have never been forced to pay tribute to men who never did an honest day's work in their lives.

We all must realize that this war we are fighting is a total war. It is a war in which all of us can get hurt—for which all of us will have to pay, and—in which all of us will have to work and fight—in order for all of us to win.

Save the nation for those boys when they return, because by our acts and efforts will they judge us.

Says He Speaks for Self Alone

Yes, of course, buy bonds—buy to the limit—if you believe in this land. Buy a stake in its future so that when this horrible catastrophe is over you will not be the first one crying for relief.

Yes, I know I have been accused of being the representative of the National Association of Manufacturers—the automotive industry—the America First Committee—and even accused of being a Fascist. Frankly and sincerely, I represent no person or persons—group or groups—color or creed—nor have I any political ambitions—I speak for myself alone, but echo the sentiments of millions.

And again, I frankly state, that I much prefer to break bread with Henry Ford—the Fisher brothers—the K. T. Kellers of Chrysler—and the Charlie Ketterings of General Motors—for here are men who have come from the soil and given the world one of the greatest gifts humanity has ever received in history—the automobile.

Yes, I would rather sit down with these men than with those who are living in the laps of luxury at the expense of the sweat and toil of millions of honest men and women.

Let us give these millions of young men inducted into the uniform of these great United States an opportunity on their return to again join the Union of Americanism.

And to Congress I say again—face the facts and show the traditional American intestinal fortitude by legislating this cancerous element from our midst.

Why should these racketeers be immune from reporting their incomes or paying taxes on their tributes from the millions? Why should not our Congress bring about compulsory incorporation, public accounting of their funds, and forbid political contributions from their ill-gotten gains, if they are honest in their intentions?

Labor Hating Denied

If honest in their intentions, why are they so viciously fighting the Hobbs bill in Congress, which proposes to make labor unions subject to racketeer laws—the same as all other groups?

No, I am not a labor hater. I believe in honest laborunions who are doing their darnedest to turn out the weapons we need.

I have been laboring for forty-odd years—since I was 12 years of age—in many lines of endeavor. I come from humble parents. I know the value of honest labor. I have served labor as well as employer.

And I know just how serious the situation is from the thousands of letters I have received from men and women in many industries from all parts of the United States—both union and nonunion—who have urged and pleaded that I bring the facts before the public before it is too late.

And to those millions of honest men and women war workers goes my heartfelt thanks—but to those whom the shoe fits I say wear it.

For there is nothing of material value that any of you or anybody has on the face of this globe that I want—with the exception of ten more years of life with my mental and physical faculties to help preserve the freedom and standards of living dedicated to us by our forefathers for our children and our soldiers when they come back—and only God can give me that.

Let us be able to say, "We, too, were there." When what is left of the boys who come back bearing honorable scars and tell of their ventures at the cannon's mouth, let's be able to say, "We, too, were there. Our sacrifice of dollars was there in the transportation of food, air and tank protection that helped to bring these young men safely and proudly home."

Calls on All to Fight

We can't all be in uniform. We can't all shoulder guns or pilot planes, tanks, or ships. But we can all fight—and must.

I can never hide MYSELF from ME,
I see what others can never see,
I know what others can never know,
I never can fool myself, and so,
Whatever happens, I want to be self-respecting and conscious-free.

There is no need to say much more. When those boys come back—bringing with them only the memories of the

boys who will never come back—no one of us can hide from himself and his conscience. We did our part—or we didn't. There is no middle course.

If we were in the production plants, we did our best—counting neither hours nor profit—or we didn't.

We bought War Bonds to the very limit of our ability—or we didn't.

We gave to the United War Work Fund generously—we helped in the Red Cross—we joined in Civilian Defense—we fought as hard as we knew how—or we didn't.

Sees Challenge to All

For each of us there will be one challenging question—"Am I self-respecting and conscience-free?"

Or, because of our failure, will we be plagued with the thought—"Did he die too soon?"

For when epitaphs are carved in granite, the carver uses a chisel. But the epitaph on a soldier's grave can be carved another way. It can be written by the "chiseling" few.

"Died too soon"—because help was too little or too late. Only the recording angel will mark that record—only the recording angel and the conscience of the guilty will know who really wrote it.

Use up that rubber—if you will. Forget the boy who died out there—fighting for you—when his tank bogged down for want of rubber.

Hold on to the money that might have bought War Bonds. Forget the boy who died in Africa—fighting for you—because he ran out of munitions.

Roll out the red tape—drag the production line—measure the hours of work. Forget the boy on the Solomons who died—fighting for you—while he waited for the help that never came.

Pile up the food and hoard it—if you will. Forget the boy who died out there—fighting for you—because the food you hoarded never reached him.

Do these and a thousand more, back home in comfort and safety. But, when you do, you take your chisel in hand and carve above the grave of an American boy—"He died too soon."

For what price social security from the cradle to the grave, if we dig our own graves in advance?