It happens every Friday evening, almost without fail, when the sun
resembles a giant orange and is starting to dip into the blue ocean.
Old Ed comes strolling along the beach to his favorite pier. Clutched in
his bony hand is a bucket of shrimp.
Ed walks out to the end of the pier, where it seems he almost has the
world to himself. The glow of the sun is a golden bronze now.
Everybody's gone, except for a few joggers on the beach. Standing out on
the end of the pier, Ed is alone with his thoughts....and his bucket of
Before long, however, he is no longer alone. Up in the sky a
thousand white dots come screeching and squawking, winging their way
toward that lanky frame standing there on the end of the pier. Before
long, dozens of seagulls have enveloped him, their wings fluttering and
flapping wildly. Ed stands there tossing shrimp to the hungry birds. As he
does, if you listen closely, you can hear him say with a smile, "Thank
you. Thank you."
In a few short minutes the bucket is empty. But Ed doesn't leave. He
stands there lost in thought, as though transported to another time and
place. Invariably, one of the gulls lands on his sea-bleached,
weather-beaten hat - an old military hat he's been wearing for years.
When he finally turns around and begins to walk back toward the beach, a
few of the birds hop along the pier with him until he gets to the stairs,
and then they, too, fly away. And old Ed quietly makes his way down to the
end of the beach and on home.
If you were sitting there on the pier with your fishing line in the water,
Ed might seem like "a funny old duck," as my dad used to say. Or, "a guy
that's a sandwich shy of a picnic," as my kids might say. To onlookers,
he's just another old codger, lost in his own weird world, feeding the
seagulls with a bucket full of shrimp.
To the onlooker, rituals can look either very strange or very empty. They
can seem altogether unimportant ....maybe even a lot of nonsense. Old
folks often do strange things, at least in the eyes of Boomers and
Busters. Most of them would probably write Old Ed off, down there in
That's too bad. They'd do well to know him better. His full name: Eddie
Rickenbacker. He was a famous hero back in World War II. On one of his
flying missions across the Pacific, he and his seven-member crew went
Miraculously, all of the men survived, crawled out of their plane, and
climbed into a life raft.
Captain Rickenbacker and his crew floated for days on the rough waters of
the Pacific. They fought the sun. They fought sharks. Most of all, they
fought hunger. By the eighth day their rations ran out. No food. No water.
They were hundreds of miles from land and no one knew where they were.
They needed a miracle. That afternoon they had a simple devotional service
and prayed for a miracle. They tried to nap. Eddie leaned back and pulled
his military cap over his nose. Time dragged. All he could hear was the
slap of the waves against the raft. Suddenly, Eddie felt something land on
the top of his cap. It was a seagull!
Old Ed would later describe how he sat perfectly still, planning his next
move. With a flash of his hand and a squawk from the gull, he managed to
grab it and wring its neck. He tore the feathers off, and he and his
starving crew made a meal - a very slight meal for eight men - of it. Then they
used the intestines for bait. With it, they caught fish, which gave them
food and more bait......and the cycle continued. With that simple survival
technique, they were able to endure the rigors of the sea until they were
found and rescued-after 24 days at sea.
Eddie Rickenbacker lived many years beyond that ordeal, but he never
forgot the sacrifice of that first lifesaving seagull. And he never
stopped saying, "Thank you."
That's why almost every Friday night he would walk to the end of the pier
with a bucket full of shrimp and a heart full of gratitude.
(Max Lucado, In The Eye of the Storm, pp.221, 225-226)
PS: Eddie was also an Ace in WW I and started Eastern Airlines back in the 30's.
Remarkable: a story that is both economical with the truth and prolix with the bollocks.
Eddie Rickenbacker: American Hero is the result of fifteen years of research by W. David Lewis, apparently a Distinguished Professor at Auburn University. I have no idea if Distinguished Professor is an honorific or a hard-won title, and if you think I am going to make snide remarks about a Brunette or a Ginger or a Blonde University, you are sadly deluded.
I googled Eddie Rickenbacker Seagull. (Please. Please. Don't. Just don't. You must resist.)
Pages 429-439 are the ones we need to read. (Although they are pretty harrowing.) The story of the devotional service is true, but not the way the OP has it. It took place about six days after they landed and they had eaten the only food they'd remembered to take out of the aeroplane. And just before they discussed the possibility of cutting off somebody's toes to use as bait on fishing lines. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
Professor Lewis says that at least two of the men were atheists and that Rickenbacker hadn't much fussed himself with religion since childhood. Black-hearted commo atheist I might be, but I'm not going to giggle at starving and desperate men finding solace in scripture; however, the miracle that followed wasn't really up to much.
It was the eighth day, so even glurge gets some things right. The bird did land on Rickenbacker's hat, although you'd think that after fifteen years' research the Distinguished Professor would have been able to tell us if Rickenbacker's hat was on his head or over his nose. (The two atheists said it wasn't a seagull, but what did they know, godless jobsworths that they clearly were?) They did manage to catch a couple of fish with the bait, but only enough for an inch cube for each man.
And then, well, that was it. They hardly caught any more fish at all. At one stage they caught and killed a small shark, but it was so rancid nobody could contemplate eating it. One man died and another tried to kill himself by drowning. As they got nearer land there was more opportunity to catch fish and other marine life. (I don't know what the other marine life was, because there are pages removed from the book on the google site, but I can tell you these men were developing a taste for sushi at a time when it was neither profitable nor popular.)
So there you have it. Was there a miracle that saved them? Yes, there was; and, in a very real sense, no there wasn't. It was more likely the night-time rain storms that saved them, and a certain amount of egotistical bullying from Eddie Rickenbacker. Odd that Max Lucado doesn't mention the shouting.
So what about the daily ritual of feeding shrimp to the gulls in eucharistic gratitude? When I googled Eddie Rickenbacker bucket shrimp pier I got six pages of the same story in the OP (with snopes the very first, hurrah) but no reference to the book by the Distinguished Professor Lewis. I conclude that either he meant to include the story but he had a Blonde moment (oh, bugger!) or the story is what Professor Alexei Sayle used to refer to as cack, cack, bloody cack.