Today we remember Félix Rigau Carrera: the first Puerto Rican fighter pilot and paratrooper—Brian Latimer writes for NBC Latino News.
If Carrera was still alive today he would celebrate Fourth of July in a very special way. Carrera was so proud of his country that on this day he would be displaying flags on his front porch, corn mill, gas pump, well, and airplane. He would be seen in the Gloucester, Virginia town center with his family waving flags in front of the Court House. Then, he would take his children to the Civil War memorial in the town green.
“He put flags everywhere,” Carrera’s daughter, Carmen Rigau Stanford says. “He always put one in my hand.” Her task was to make the stars for each flag, she adds.
Félix Rigau Carrera was a pilot, paratrooper, postman, and patriot. His accomplishments range throughout Puerto Rico, Virginia, and the Army. The decorated aviator was awarded a WWI victory medal, a U.S. Signal Corps Military Aviator Badge, and a Naval Aviator Insignia. His legacy still resonates strongly with his daughter.
“We all have our flags because of him,” she says. “I have all my flags in remembrance of all my father did.”
Carrera was born, raised, and educated in Puerto Rico. As one of nine children, he would escape from the pandemonium in his home and launch homemade model airplanes off rooftops. His love of planes led him to study mechanical engineering at what is now the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez.
After finishing his degree, WWI broke out. Carrera immediately enlisted in New York and joined the Aviation Section of the U.S. Signal Corps. Here he became a paratrooper, and more importantly, a pilot.
“My father was revered in Puerto Rico for his flying,” Stanford says. “People celebrated his landings with music and parties because he represented Puerto Rico overseas; he responded to them with plane rides.”
Carrera then found himself with the U.S. Naval Aviation Detachment in Minneapolis and then Seattle. There, Carrera learned he could pursue a career as a pilot. Once Carrera and his brothers came together to buy a new airplane, Carrera went to Puerto Rico and flew paying customers out of Camp Las Casas around the island. He was the first native Puerto Rican to take flight from that air base. People called him “The Eagle from Sabana Grande.”
In the early 1920’s, he caught the mail service’s attention. He became the first air mailman on the island, garnering more admiration. Despite this success in Puerto Rico, he settled down in Gloucester with his family.
“He stayed home when I had diphtheria at five,” she says. “They almost lost me so he retired and took care of me and my family.”
Flying took a backseat for Carrera. On his land, he built a flour mill, corn mill, and started his own concrete mixing company.
“He was born and died an engineer,” Stanford says. “When he wasn’t flying, he was building new farm equipment, making concrete casts for his company or building furniture.”
He did, however, continue flying as a hobby. At county fairs, he would fly people around the town. His skills rusted but still had control of the aircraft.
“He never lost his touch,” Stanford says. “But he would land in our fields, drive under power lines, clip the tops of trees, and do stunts with his friend standing on the wings.”
The only thing that could rival Carrera’s passion for flying was his love for the United States. At 64, he died of a stroke after saving his flags from a hurricane.
“Even though trees were down everywhere and rooftops were ripped off of homes, people used chainsaws to get to the cemetery to bid farewell to my father,” Stanford says. “He was loved by the people of Gloucester and Puerto Rico.”
For the original report go to http://nbclatino.com/2012/07/04/celebrating-our-heroes-felix-rigau-carrera-the-first-puerto-rican-fighter-pilot/