Rigell’s biography honors all who served alongside him


Published:

Courtesy of Isom Rigell

Isom “Ike” Rigell has an uncanny knack for being smack in the midst of history in the making. 

“My father lived an extraordinary life during a very important time in our country’s history,” wrote Rigell’s daughter, Amy Hendricks, in the foreword to “Ike,” the highly readable memoir of a unique member of the Greatest Generation.  

 On Dec. 7, 1941, as a Marine operating a combat telephone switchboard on Midway Island, Rigell delivered the news to his commanding officer that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. It was a long way and a different world for a 17-year-old boy from the small town of Slocomb, Alabama. 

Midway, Iwo Jima, Saipan, Tinian — Rigell was there.

After four-and-a-half years in the Marine Corps, Rigell, like many of his peers, went back to school. For Ike, it was Georgia Tech, where he earned an electrical engineering degree.

 This allowed him the opportunity to be part of history, yet again. This time, it was in the space program. At Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, he met the person Rigell calls “God’s gift to me,” his wife, Kathryn.

The couple later moved to Cape Canaveral, where Rigell was part of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency’s elite team. This included Wernher von Braun, a pioneer in rocket technology in Germany and later in the United States. Rigell segued into NASA for a career that spanned three decades.

“At NASA, Ike was an original member of the launch team at Cape Canaveral and a member of the launch team for the Free World’s first satellite (Explorer 1 in 1958) and the Free World’s first man in space in 1961,” friend Bill Muckler said.

Rigell was the chief engineer and deputy director for all of the Apollo launches and director of launch operations for Apollo-Soyuz, the historical collaboration between the United States and the former Soviet Union. Retirement from NASA was not retirement at all since Rigell continued in the space program, serving for 10 years as vice president of Florida Operations for United Space Boosters, Inc. (USBI).

A large room in Rigell’s home in Titusville is devoted to the space memorabilia and awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award presented in 1969 by astronaut John Young on behalf of the National Space Club.  

Hendricks adds that to this day, her father proudly wears his Marine Corps cap every day. As she notes, many young men, like Ike Rigell, have served their country, but not many have shared their stories. 

“My father’s memoir is a voice for all the servicemen he served alongside,” she said.

Isom Rigell’s memoir, “Ike,” is available at amazon.com.