Recollections of Admiral Rickover
By Luther L. Biggs, Lieutenant Commander, USN (Ret.)
In 1977, I was a QM1(SS/DV) assigned to MEMPHIS PCU. I was assigned TAD to USS LOS ANGELES for several months to fill in as A-Nav for the work-up for and conduct of a day cruise out of Port Canaveral with President Carter, the First Lady, Admiral Rickover and COMSUBLANT (Vice Admiral “Jumping Joe” Williams) embarked.
Story 1. We were pier side at the Poseidon Wharf in Port Canaveral, port side to and singled up, awaiting the arrival of the official party. The orders were for minimal side honors. I was topside with the CO, CAPT Christiansen forward of the sail with a whistle to blow “attention to port” when the President approached the brow. Line handlers were aft of the sail.
The presidential motorcade pulled up and as President Carter got out of the car (a station wagon), he noticed a group of local civilians behind a rope line chanting “Jimmy, Jimmy!” Without looking, the President handed the accordion folder he was carrying to the person behind him and he and the First Lady walked over to shake hands. The person behind him was none other than Admiral Rickover who looked at the President’s folder, looked at the President’s back, and tossed the folder into the back seat of the station wagon. Then, Admiral Rickover turned and without waiting for the President, walked aboard and went below. The CO obviously conflicted about whether or not to follow Admiral Rickover but he remained topside to greet the President and the rest of the official party, who came aboard shortly. Brief honors were rendered and we got underway.
That afternoon, White House aides and Secret Service agents were frantically going around the boat obviously looking for something. I asked one of them what they were looking for and I was told that the President had misplaced an accordion folder of papers which they very much needed to locate. I related what I had observed topside and a secure call was made to the shore security detail. The President’s station wagon was searched and sure enough, the missing accordion folder of missing presidential papers was found on the floor in the back seat where they had landed after Admiral Rickover had tossed it inside.
Story 2. I was manning number 2 periscope taking visual fixes as LOS ANGELES navigated the channel into Port Canaveral. An early version of “Periviz” was installed and between fixes, at the request of the Secret Service, I was scanning the crowd of onlookers on the rock jetties at Jetty Park. President Carter was standing on top of the sail in the “playpen” waving and the Secret Service was nervous.
Number 2 periscope was notoriously hard to turn even with torque assist so I had bumped it down several inches to make it easier to turn.
As we were transiting in, at one point Admiral Rickover was standing in the Control Room just forward of the periscope stand being interviewed by a member of the White House press corps. I was scanning the crowd when the Navigator said, “Biggs, take a fix!” I hooked my left arm over the periscope arm and with the periscope bumped down, I swung around to shoot the first bearing, unaware of how far my butt was sticking out. I hit the Admiral a solid blow broadside. He bounced off the helmsman and landed on the bear trap grating. I left the periscope and rushed to help him up and lifted him easier up (he was very light). I started babbling “Are you all right, Admiral?” “I’m so sorry” etc. The Admiral ignored me. I resumed taking a fix but clearly overheard the following exchange between Admiral Rickover and the female reporter as they resumed the interview. The reporter said, “So, in other words, Admiral, what you’re saying is…” The Admiral cut her off saying, “Don’t paraphrase me, goddamit!” He then turned on his heel and walked out. I expect he was in a great deal of pain. I was afraid my career was over but I remember the XO saying, “Nah. If he was going to kill you, you’d know it.” When Admiral Rickover rode MEMPHIS for initial sea trials later that year, I kept out of his way nevertheless.