Tommy Hitchcock III, meanwhile, was the son of a celebrated American polo player– an inductee to the Museum of Polo and the Polo Hall of Fame – Thomas Hitchcock Jr who – as a teenager during World War I – had abandoned school to join the Lafayette Flying Corps in France. He was shot down and captured by the Germans but escaped by jumping from a train. For eight days he hid in woodland during daylight hours and walked by night, covering more than one hundred miles to reach sanctuary in neutral Switzerland.
Between the wars, Hitchcock Jr then caught up on studies at Harvard and Oxford, and in 1921, he led the US team to victory in the International Polo Cup. From 1922 to 1940, he possessed a 10-goal handicap from the United States of America Polo Association, polo’s highest ranking, and he led four teams to US National Open Championships in 1923, 1927, 1935 and 1936. It’s said that author F. Scott Fitzgerald based two of his characters on Tommy Hitchcock Jr: Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby (1925) and Tommy Barban in Tender Is the Night (1934). Tommy Jr married New York socialite Margaret Mellon, and Thomas Hitchcock III was one the couple’s twin boys.
One of Tommy Jr’s fellow polo-playing friends was Robert Lehman, of the Lehman Brothers investment firm, and Jr became a partner in the company in 1937. Into World War 2 this remarkably vivid sportsman became a USAAF Lieutenant-Colonel posted to England as an assistant air attaché to the US Embassy. In that capacity, he played a vital role in selecting the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine to replace the feeble Allison V12 in the North American P51 Mustang aircraft – creating perhaps the finest of all the conflict’s fighter ’planes. While testing such an aircraft he was killed in a crash near Salisbury, Wiltshire, when he failed to pull out of a dive.