World War II veteran, space program engineer pens memoir


World War II veteran and space industry pioneer Ike Rigell of Titusville has penned his memoir, “Ike: The Memoir of Isom ‘Ike’ Rigell.”

Dan Reigada

Ike Rigell of Titusville has been more than an eyewitness to history. He helped make it and has recorded his experiences in a memoir, “Ike: The Memoir of Isom ‘Ike’ Rigell.” It is published by Koehler Books.

Born in 1923, Rigell grew up in Slocomb, Alabama  during the Great Depression.

“I enlisted in the Marine Corps right after high school,” he said.

Rigell’s baptism of fire came Dec. 7, 1941 on Midway Island, where the 18 year old was operating a small, combat-telephone switchboard.

“Japanese naval forces attacked Pearl Harbor in the morning and attacked our Marine garrison at night,” he said.

Rigell went on to fight in the battles of Midway, Iwo Jima, Saipan and Tinian. He was wounded by a piece of shrapnel from a mortar shell.

After four years of service, he earned a degree from Georgia Tech. He entered the space industry in 1952 at the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Next came the Redstone Arsenal in Alabama. Rigell went on to become a member of the original launch team at Cape Canaveral.

“I was a member of the launch team for the free world’s first satellite, Explorer 1, and the team which launched the first American, Alan Shepard, into space,” he said.

Rigell’s other accomplishments in the space industry include being chief engineer and deputy director for every launch of the Apollo program during which 12 men walked on the moon.

Leaving NASA, he worked for United Technologies and retired in 1991 as vice president of United Space Boosters, Inc., Florida Operations.

Rigell and his wife, Katherine, have been married for 64 years.

Their retirement has been a time of travel and intrigue.

The couple took two trips to Russia, where they distributed Bibles in Red Square.

“We smuggled Bibles into China,” he said.

She did her part.

“I hid little New Testaments in pockets inside my petticoat,” she said.

Rigell’s publisher writes, “Ike’s emotional, poignant and often humorous account of his life pays tribute to our history through the time-honored tradition of storytelling.”

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