Robert Opie Lindsay, North Carolina's Only Flying Ace

Robert Opie Lindsay

Robert Opie Lindsay

By Todd Kosmerick

In commemoration of the 100th anniversary of U.S. participation in World War I, Special Collections News continues to examine the war’s impact on its students and alumni.  In this post, we remember Robert Opie Lindsay, NC State alumnus and hero in both world wars.  Be sure to also visit our previous posts on NC State during WWI regarding preparation and enrollment, as well as the post by our colleagues at the NC State News blog.

The 1919 Agromeck, called the “Victory Agromeck,” (as described in Alumni News, Vol. 2, No. 3, January 1, 1919) contains a lengthy dedication to the State College students and alumni who died or received commendations for their heroism in the first world war.  We encounter Robert Opie Lindsay in the “Cited for Bravery” section of the Victory Agromeck.  This passage describes how Lindsay engaged three Fokker type German aircraft and shot one down.  When eight more planes arrived as reinforcements, he out-maneuvered them, shooting down one more before retreating to home base. Indeed, Lindsay was a true World War I Flying Ace, the only one in North Carolina.  (A “flying ace” is typically defined as an aviator who has shot down five or more aircraft).  Here is the full entry, from the 1919 Agromeck:


In his State College days however, he was an athlete from the small town of Madison, on the Dan River in northern North Carolina.  He excelled in football, basketball and baseball.  He was active in the Leazar Literary Society, Debate Club, and the German Club, and he was business manager of the Red & White student publication and associate editor of the Agromeck.  The 1916 Agromeck (his senior year) describes “Opie” as possessing “business ability and good judgment,” while perhaps knowing nothing about girls.  His course of study was Textiles.



After completing his studies at NC State (then State College), Lindsay applied to the Officers’ Training Corps at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, but he was turned away due to an acute episode of appendicitis.  After a successful operation in Greensboro, he enrolled in the Officers Training Corps for Aviators, stationed at Champaign, Illinois.  After deployment, he trained at a French aviation field and became well-versed in the acrobatic flying style that characterized his successes against the Germans and won him the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in action (Alumni News Vol. 2, No. 5, p. 5).

Lindsay went on to become an Air Force Colonel in World War II, and he helped to found the Civil Aeronautics Administration, a forerunner of the FAA.  He died in 1952 in Fort Worth, Texas, at the age of 54.

A historical marker in honor of Robert Opie Lindsay was approved by the North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program in February of this year and will be erected in July on US 311 at Lindsay Bridge Road in his hometown of Madison, NC.  It will be a fitting tribute for a valiant alumnus.

You can discover images of students and campus during the war on our Rare and Unique Digital Collections site, as well as video, audio recordings, and textual materials documenting the history of NC State and other topics.