A few days later I got a call from Tommy Cagle of Curry and in a voice as low as a bullfrog, he told me that he got a chance to do something while he was in the Navy that was “kind of interesting.”
He and his twin brother, Donnie, joined the Navy in 1966, a few years after they graduated from Walker High School. Recruiters told the twins that they could serve together, but after bootcamp Tommy was assigned to the USS Yorktown and Donnie’s assignment put him on the USS Hornet.
Normally that’s where they would both have spent their time, but the twins happened to have an uncle, Edgar Allan Poe, who worked for the New Orleans Picayune, but was assigned as a White House Correspondent covering the Nixon administration.
When the twins told Uncle Edgar about the assignments, he called in a favor and soon Tommy got a handwritten note from the Chief of Naval Personnel asking where he wanted to serve. Tommy told him he wanted on the USS Hornet. Soon the twins were on their way to the western Pacific and more specifically the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of Vietnam.
During the Apollo moon missions, the twins were still serving on the Hornet and one of the assignments was to retrieve the lunar modules.
Once the module was recovered from the Pacific and the astronauts were placed in a quarantine module, Tommy Cagle hooked up the telephone. This made him the first person on earth to congratulate Neil Armstrong (and Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins) on a successful mission. Tommy then handed the phone to President Richard Nixon who was on board, so that he could welcome the astronauts home.
Tommy and Donnie remained in the Navy until 1970. But when Tommy left the Navy, he didn’t get too far from the water. He spent 30 years as a marine policeman. “I spent my career floating around in a boat on Smith Lake,” he said with a smile.
Donnie also stayed close to water and is still working with Alabama Power doing shoreline surveillance. Tommy has two other brothers; Paul who is a truck driver and Patrick who worked for security with the power company and, after retirement, took a security job in Afghanistan.
Tommy and his wife, Ronita, have a daughter, Rachel. His father died several years ago and his mother lives at the Terrace in Jasper.
As the interview was winding down, Tommy told me about another time he spoke with Richard Nixon.
Uncle Edgar Allan Poe was visiting Tommy’s family in Jasper. They were all eating breakfast when the phone rang. Tommy answered the phone and the man on the other end said, “May I speak to Mr. Poe.”
Tommy asked who was calling.
“The president,” came the reply.
Tommy said, “The president of what?”
The caller said, “This is Richard Nixon, the president of the United State!”
Tommy said, “Oh,” and handed the phone to Edgar.
I enjoyed Tommy Cagle’s story and I think he was being very modest when he said he did something that was “kind of interesting.”
I know there are many more fascinating stories here in Walker County, and I can’t wait to hear them.