TUNNY'S ANGEL

Mrs. Lola P. Aiken

PART ONE - Background

PART TWO - Syrup Gift

PART THREE - Vermont

PART FOUR - TUNNY Souvenirs

PART FIVE - Socializing 

PART ONE - Background

I wanted to contact Lola Aiken after hearing about her on TUNNY's decommissioning ceremony videotape. ADM Kaup said Lola was dear to ADM Rickover, and that TUNNY's Commanding Officers kept in touch with her periodically (or else!). Failure to check in with Lola disappointed Rickover, which nobody wanted to do. ADM Kaup also explained that Lola "would have loved to be here with us today, but she felt the trip would be a little bit long coming to Hawaii from Vermont".

However, Lola sent word that she "keeps the men of USS TUNNY in her nightly prayers." Hear the sound clip from ADM Kaup's speech here (300 kBytes).

June 1972, Lola and ADM Rickover yuk it up, while Senator Aiken looks on.

I thought this was touching. I also imagined that maybe her prayers had helped - despite the inherent risks of working onboard TUNNY. Well, here was a lady praying for more than 25 years that we'd get home safe.

I decided to contact Lola to ask if she'd ever visited the TUNNY Homepage, then maybe solicit a quote for the main page. When I told former C.O. Marty McDonough about my plan, he told me (seriously) to keep a tight watch over my web page content and personal behavior so I didn't disappoint her. He said, "she still considers me one of her boys". Folks, it's possible that I respect Marty McDonough as much as any man I've ever met - he was an exceptional leader and role model onboard TUNNY - but now I suspected he was exaggerating this issue. Coincidentally, ADM Kaup (who I had only recently begun corresponding with) independently issued the same verbal warning. Why are these guys afraid of Lola Aiken?

I knew her husband George Aiken had been acquainted with ADM Rickover as a US Senator and personal friend. In fact, he served on the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy since 1959, certainly putting him in Rickover's path. I guessed that Lola was asked to christen TUNNY "because she was married to an important Senator." Not much to go on.

I asked ADM Kaup for Lola's phone number. Preparing for the call, I intently read my launching ceremony booklet to learn about Lola Aiken. (As an enlisted crewmember onboard TUNNY in the 1990's, we never heard of Lola Aiken.) After reviewing the available materials, I wrote down (3) interview-type questions for my phone call.

  1. Do you have internet access?
  2. Have you ever visited the TUNNY Homepage?
  3. Any message for the troops?

 And then I called her.

I quickly explained that I created TUNNY's web site. My description rambled and SOUNDED WEIRD, but she graciously let me fumble through it. Lola said she doesn't have internet access. I offered to print out selections from the TUNNY Homepage, and mail them to her so she could have a copy to read. Great idea.

 Her message for the troops was "Oh yes, let them know I continue to pray for them every night in my nightly prayers." I felt like there ought to be a response for that, so I told her "Thank you - I'm sure it helped. We managed to get home safely and fine - nearly always." Which probably wasn't a very sophisticated response, but it was the best I could come up with on the spot right there! We hung up. Later, I mailed some pages from the web site (the Decklog, Ship History, Sub Cups and Sociology).

PART TWO - Syrup Gift

I was surprised to receive a letter from Lola, thanking me for the Homepage printouts and informing me "You will be receiving some maple syrup." This gift (I correctly concluded) was a "Regional thing" from Vermont. Interestingly, I have a photo from ADM Kaup during a visit to TUNNY - where TUNNY's wardroom is chowing Maple Syrup, a gift from Lola.

Karl Kaup, Chief of Staff COMSUBPAC, Sharing Lola Aiken's Maple syrup with TUNNY wardroom in 1987. Doug Siemon C.O. of TUNNY

Well, my syrup bottle arrived, and my kids and I gobbled it up. I told the wife, "I've just got to write Mrs. Aiken a thank you note." Lola called a few days later (asking if I received the syrup). Ooops - I suppose I hadn't written the thank you note quickly enough. Lesson # 1 - Remember your manners around Lola.

 I wrote Lola a few times after that - always a short Howdy - and some printout from TUNNY's web pages. It seemed that she genuinely enjoyed receiving this little contact with TUNNY's crew. (Which of course, is what the page is all about!) She is always prompt about responding / thank you notes, and has great "correspondence" manners.

PART THREE - Vermont

The plot thickens. I haven't traveled often in the eastern U.S., but was subsequently scheduled for a rare business visit to Boston, Massachusetts in January '99. I called Lola and asked if I could come by and shake her hand and maybe buy dinner. She consented, so I drove a few hours through falling snow to her home in Vermont. Unfortunately, I didn't arrive until around 8:30 PM. I called Lola from a gas station and she gave me exact directions to her house, then said, "I'll be out front, waiting for you." I said, "Oh no, don't do that!" (thinking she would freeze)! But when I drove around her corner, there she was, outside on the porch, waving a flashlight at me. I was really self-conscious about inconveniencing this nice lady (freezing weather, late at night, probably waited up all evening). I thought, "I hope this never gets back to Marty McDonough - if she gets pneumonia I will never forgive myself."

You know how some people really carry themselves with a lot of grace? Like it's easy to have manners and they're very comfortable? Well, that's Lola. She got in the car with me, so we could park it around back - then she told me to be careful walking around her driveway because of the ice. Lola probably weighs a third of what I weigh - I am certainly not worried about falling on the ice, I'm more afraid that she might! It ain't gonna hurt me. But, I smile and say "yes, ma'am." When we get in the house, she asks, "Do you want some chicken soup?"

I was reminded of a quote from EM1 (SS) Tim Finch, "The only answer I require from you is 'Yes, Petty Officer Finch.' ". Something told me Lola wasn't really asking. Something told me that the ONLY appropriate response was, "Yes, ma'am, chicken soup would be very nice - thank you."

Well, the chicken soup was outstanding.

I didn't know where to start my discussion with her, so I tried the direct approach. "Lola, I'm sorry, but all I know about you is disjointed pieces of our TUNNY past. You christened TUNNY, so I know your name, and that your husband was an important United States Senator and that you knew ADM Rickover, but that is all. Could you start at the beginning and tell me everything?"

She sat at the table while I slurped the soup and responded to this question very nicely. Basically, her husband "The Governor" (she didn't call him George or the Senator, but "the Governor"!) had been Governor of Vermont for 4 years, then went on into the Senate, where he served for 34 years. Mr. Aiken preferred to be called "The Governor" because he thought being a Governor of Vermont was more important than being a Senator. Anyway, Lola had a friend who worked in Senator Aiken's office, and was invited to come to Washington to assist as a clerk. By her hard work, Lola was promoted and worked more directly with Senator Aiken. Eventually, they fell in love and were married. Now Lola was a Senator's wife, which included her socially in a wider circle of senator's wives and Washington parties. Anyway, I would guess Lola was in charge of about every social and public function she attended.

Her introduction to Rickover was through her husband's position on the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy. One business trip, Sen. Aiken and Rickover were discussing business in the back of an airplane. Lola sat up front, by herself. She was startled to turn and see ADM Rickover sitting next to her (she didn't hear him sit down) and Rickover said, "I thought I'd sit up her a while, you're so much more fun than he is." Lola soon thought Rickover was a lot of fun, and he was apparently ALWAYS nice to her. In fact, she says, Rickover seemed to enjoy her company more than the Senators. Rickover would also playfully joke with her on the phone. And he had long tried to get her to christen one of his subs. Eventually, the timing was right. Lola flew out to TUNNY.

PART FOUR - Tunny Souvenirs

I presented Lola with a few computer-scanned, printed images from TUNNY ceremonies (launching, commissioning, and decommissioning). Initially, to obtain these images, I had borrowed a couple of booklets from former TUNNY sailors. I hoped Lola might appreciate these pieces of TUNNY's history. I even had a printed image of ADM Rickover, herself and her husband (Senator George Aiken) at the commissioning ceremony. Won't she be impressed! Of course, my copies are grainy scans of reproductions. But it took some effort to create them, and was my humble offering to smooth over our introduction.

 She graciously accepted the packet of printed images. Little did I know...

An hour or so later, Lola is showing me some of her TUNNY memorabilia. She had a "desktop" model of TUNNY (small metal boat on a wooden stand) with a label plate "To Lola from RADM Rickover. " And she has large, framed, color photos of the ship - both underway and from the decom ceremony.

ADM Rickover presents Lola with desktop TUNNY (Launching Ceremony, Jun 1972)

Lola with desktop TUNNY (Commissioning Ceremony, Jan 1974)

 

Lola with king-sized TUNNY underway photo (Commissioning Ceremony, Jan 1974)

And there was a drawer with some real treasures --- photo albums. The albums were collections of original 8X10 glossy photographs from "Launching TUNNY" and "Commissioning TUNNY". There are a total of 50 photographs, including the pictures above.

Lola explained, "The photos came from Rickover's office. Since I was the sponsor, he made sure I received copies of everything." Well, it's true. Lola has photos that are clear and absolutely beautiful. I have seen reprints of a few of the photos before, but guys - she has originals, and she has them ALL. Stuff I've never seen before.

 After extended pleading and promising, I was able to borrow both photo albums from her. Since the TUNNY homepage is "all about sharing" - I was dying to scan the pictures and share them online.

PART FIVE - Socializing

Lola and I stayed up until 11:30 PM talking about TUNNY, her husband, her life in Vermont, and my family. She is very active in various committees, and in demand for speeches and advice. She is easy to talk to, and I really enjoyed myself.

She described her Washington adventures, and I couldn't believe it. She knows PLENTY about every President for about the last 40 years. I should have taken notes! She has a neat 8X10 framed photograph of Richard Nixon signing a cast on her leg, and the pen he signed it with.

Lola explained this all began because she took a position as an assistant clerk in Senator Aiken's office, at the request of a friend. Modestly, Lola described how her sister had ridden on a bus with this friend, and had recommended Lola for the job. I sat there, sort of in awe of the high profile lifestyle she enjoyed in Washington for so many years, and the events that come with it, even to this day. I tried to explain this to her, "You know, if I intentionally directed all my efforts at making a positive impact on my community and country, I don't think I would have such a wide sphere of influence as you- and yet all this happened to you, essentially because you were in the right place at the right time?" She laughed a bit, and said that it's amazingly true… but, I could see, it's not the entire reason. Lola is a dynamic lady, with a lot of leadership qualities, and very outgoing.

The next morning, there was only time for breakfast, then I was on my way. We went to a small restaurant in downtown. Naturally, Lola knew everybody in the place. We visited with the waitress, the cook, the other customers, and the guy that owns the place. She "showed me off" as (quote): ONE OF HER BOYS OFF TUNNY. I couldn't help but smile, Kaup and McDonough were right.

 

Lola Aiken and me - outside the Main Street Corner Coffee Shop. Jan 99.

Breakfast was on the house.

I suspect Lola runs the town.

After breakfast, she invited me back to Vermont ("Bring the family this summer") and we took a picture. I got into my car. Before I even backed my car out, she was standing on the corner, shouting at passing cars - coordinating the flurry of social activity which surrounds her.

Remember, this whole thing started out (for me) as an idea to just introduce myself and get a quote. I was sure surprised at how much fun I had.

Lola has no computer, and no plans to acquire one. I offered to pass along email messages to her via regular mail - she didn't want her address published on the Internet (can't blame her - neither do I). So, if you'd like to send her a "Howdy", feel free to use this link- I'll forward the message, and she would enjoy hearing from TUNNY's crew. By the way, her birthday is 24 June, you'd better leave a message when that rolls around.  

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