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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Hawaii resident Meredith Riddle dies

 •  Obituaries

By Rick Daysog
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Meredith "Rip" Riddle

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Meredith "Rip" Riddle was taken aback when the U.S. Navy put him in charge of his first ship in 1942.

Unlike many World War II warships, it was not a heavy-metal battleship or destroyer.

Instead, the 27-year-old Riddle was put in command of a wooden sailing schooner, the USS Echo, whose mission was to place coastal watchers behind enemy lines in the South Pacific.

None of the ship's 15 crew members knew how to sail, and when the ship landed, Riddle shared command with a major in the U.S. Army, which owned the ship.

He later wrote about his misadventures, and the tale was turned into the 1960 film comedy "The Wackiest Ship in The Army," starring Jack Lemmon.

"He was so surprised when a dockworker pointed out the Echo for the first time. He was looking for a Navy ship and here was this sailing vessel. He was in shock for quite a while," said Bunny Riddle, Rip Riddle's wife of nearly 63 years.

Riddle, a longtime Portlock resident, died Nov. 29 of kidney and heart failure at Straub Clinic & Hospital. He was 92.

A native of Shelbyville, Tenn., Riddle served in the Navy for more than 30 years and commanded six different ships, including the Echo.

He also served as the chief engineering officer of the aircraft carrier USS Kearsarge, where he headed a staff of 600 men and 18 officers.

After retiring from the Navy in 1964, Riddle joined Dillingham Corp. and worked in the company's maritime division. He became president of Dillingham Maritime in 1973 and served as the shipping company's chairman from 1976 to 1981.

"Rip was just a fine gentleman and a nice person to work with," said former Bishop Trust Co. Chief Executive Officer Ed Carter, a longtime friend who worked with Riddle at Dillingham during the 1970s and 1980s.

"I couldn't say enough good things about Rip. He was one of those good people who you were blessed to have known."

Daughter Lo Kaimuloa said her father was well-known for his storytelling.

Once, after a hurricane on one of the Pacific islands, the Echo rescued several fishermen whose canoes were blown more than 100 miles away from their villages and were given up for dead by their families, Kaimuloa said.

On their return, the ship was greeted by about 1,000 villagers in canoes. But Kaimuloa said her father and other crew members had to fend off many of the well-wishers who had attempted to climb onto the boat because the celebration was attracting the attention of nearby Japanese planes.

"He had some interesting war experiences and he was well respected by many of the chiefs in that part of the world," said Chuck Swanson, longtime friend and former president of Dillingham Maritime and Young Brothers Ltd.

Besides his wife and daughter, Riddle is survived by sister Virginia Boyd of Salt Lake City, Utah; sons David, Marc and Tom; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at Diamond Head Mortuary, followed by services at 11:30 a.m. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Navy Veterans Association or St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

Reach Rick Daysog at rdaysog@honoluluadvertiser.com.