David was born on January 4, 1925. Little is known about his early life. He received his education at boarding and military schools during the 1930s and early 1940s.
In 1943 he joined the U.S. Marines and "serve[d] with distinction in the Pacific." According to David's daughter Marcie, when he inlisted in the Marines just after he turned eighteen, Adelaide signed the papers thinking that he would be rejected because he weighed "about 125 pounds sopping wet...very skinny." During boot camp, David suffered because of his name. His base's public information officer pulled David away from his unit and training for photo opportunities with every VIP who passed through. David's drill sergeant made him pay for his absences with extra duty.
After completing his Marine Corps service, David spent a year at the Worcester Academy, a college preparatory school in Worcester, Massachusetts. He graduated in 1947 and his father, Eddie Rickenbacker, was the commencement speaker. David went on to attend Hamilton College in New York under the GI Bill, graduating in 1951.He married Patricia Ann Browne of Utica in 1949, and after his graduation they managed the ranch Eddie had bought in Texas. David and his family returned to New York in 1957 after Eddie donated the ranch to the Boy Scouts. Thereafter he worked for the United States Trust Company, bought a home in Upper Montclair, New Jersey, and reared three children, Brian, Marcie, and Nancy. He died of a brain tumor at age 57.