U.S.S. Little Rock
Commanding Officer Biography

Roderick O. Middleton

26 Sep 64 - 27 Sep 65

Captain Middleton

Page last updated: 13 April, 2020


Roderick Osgood Middleton was born in Pomona, Florida on January 23, 1919, son of Mrs. W.S. (Lizzie Williams) Middleton and the late Mr. Middleton. He attended Crescent City and Frostproof High Schools, both in Florida, and the Florida Southern College, Lakeland, before his appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, in 1937. Graduated and commissioned Ensign on February 7, 1941, he subsequently advanced to the rank of Rear Admiral, to date from July 1, 1967.

Upon graduation from the Naval Academy he was assigned to the Pre-Commissioning Detail of the USS WASHINGTON, and joined that battleship for navigation and gunnery duties at her commissioning on May 1941. He was on board the WASHINGTON at the outbreak of World War II and during her subsequent service with the British Home Fleet in Russian convoy operations, and with the U.S. Pacific Fleet in operations at Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands. While he was serving as a turret officer on board, the WASHINGTON sank the Japanese battleship KIRISHIMA.

After brief training at the Naval Air Station, Dallas, Texas, he assisted in fitting out the USS ALASKA's gunnery department, participating in the Iwo Jima and Okinawa Campaigns in that large cruiser. Detached in May 1945, he returned to Annapolis for instruction in Ordnance at the Naval Postgraduate School, completing the course at Harvard University, from which he was awarded the degree of Master of Science in July 1946.

From July 1946 until September 1948 he served as Gunnery Officer of the USS Little Rock CL 92, light cruiser. He attended Guided Missile School at Fort Bliss, Texas, and from September 1948 until September 1952 served in the Navy Department, Washington, D.C., attached to the Guided Missile Research and Development Division, Bureau of Ordnance.  Duty as Ordnance Officer on the Staff of Commander Service Squadron THREE took him to the Far East, and he received a Letter of Commendation, with Ribbon and Combat "V", for service in that assignment during the Korean hostilities.

Returning to the United States in April 1954, he attended Anti-Submarine Warfare School at the Naval Station, Key West, Florida during June and July, then served briefly on the Staff of Commander Destroyers, Atlantic, as Prospective Commanding Officer, before assuming command, in September 1954, of the USS BENHAM (DD-796). When detached early in 1956, he reported to Naval Office, Army Ballistic Missile Agency, Huntsville, Alabama, and in January 1957 was ordered to head the Missile Branch, Special Projects Office, Bureau of Ordnance (later Bureau of Naval Weapons). He was awarded the Legion of Merit on January 5, 1961 by the Secretary of the Navy for his work on the POLARIS missile.

In January 1961 he was transferred to duty as Commander Destroyer Division ONE HUNDRED FORTY TWO, and in June 1962 was assigned as Chief of Staff and Aide to Commander Carrier Division FOURTEEN. He assumed command of the USS OBSERVATION ISLAND (EAG-154) in August 1962 and in September 1964 became Commanding Officer of the USS Little Rock CLG 4. In October 1965 he reported as Apollo Mission Director, National Aeronautics and Space Administration and in August 1967 became Manager of the Apollo Program, Kennedy Space Center, NASA, Cape Kennedy, Florida.  As such, he developed plans and monitored their implementation, which resulted in the first manned lunar landing in July 1969.  "For exceptionally meritorious service from August 1967 to October 1969..." he was awarded a Gold Star in lieu of the Second Legion of Merit.

He reported as Commander Cruiser Destroyer Flotilla TWELVE in October 1969 and Commander Cruiser-Destroyer Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet Representative, Mayport, Florida. In that capacity he supervised the overall readiness of the Flotilla, the administration of all Cruiser-Destroyer Force, Atlantic Fleet matters in the Florida area and planned for and proposed a new weapons system. For exceptionally meritorious service in that assignment, he was awarded a Gold Star in lieu of a Third Legion of Merit. In December 1970 he reported as Military Assistant to the Deputy Director (Strategic and Space Systems), Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Research and Engineering), Washington, D.C.  :For exceptionally meritorious conduct..." in that capacity, he was awarded a Gold Star in lieu of a Fourth Legion of Merit.  He served as such until relieved of active duty pending his retirement, effective May 1, 1972.

In addition to the Legion of Merit with three Gold Stars and the Commendation Ribbon with Combat "V", Rear Admiral Middleton has the American Defense Service Medal, Fleet Clasp;  American Campaign Medal;  European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal;  Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with four operation stars;  World War II Victory Medal;  Navy Occupation Service Medal, Europe Clasp;  China Service Medal;  and the United Nations Service Medal.  He also holds the Expert Rifleman Medal.

Rear Admiral Middleton is married to the former Miss Ethel Bellows of Norfolk, Virginia.  They have three children, Mrs. Rodney Anne Middleton Beale, Roderick Osgood Middleton, Jr; and Stephanie Adele Middleton. His official residence is Pomona Park, Florida.

Rear Admiral Middleton's hobby is oil painting.

Above information is from:
    Navy Office of Information
    Biographies Branch (OI-0111)
    30 January 1973

Significant Events During R.O. Middleton's Tour at NASA
(Other USN and USMC participants are shown BOLD.)

Oct 1965
R.O. Middleton
becomes Apollo
Mission Director

04 Dec 65
Gemini 7
Earth Orbiter (Borman, Lovell) piloted by CDR James A. Lovell, Jr., USN. His flight consisted of 206 orbits at an altitude of 327 km and lasted 13 days & 18 hours. Recovery by HS-11 helicopters from USS Wasp (CVS-18).
15 Dec 65
Gemini 6A
Earth Orbiter (Schirra, Stafford) CAPT Walter M. Schirra, Jr., USN, served as Command Pilot. The mission included 16 orbits in 25 hours and 51 minutes. Recovery was by HS-11 helicopters from USS Wasp (CVS-18).
16 Mar 66
Gemini 8
Earth Orbiter (Armstrong, Scott) Former naval aviator Neil A. Armstrong flew on this mission which completed 7 orbits in 10 hours and 41 minutes at an altitude of 161.3 nautical miles. Recovery was by USS Leonard F. Mason (DD-852).
03 Jun 66
Gemini 9A
Earth Orbiter (Stafford, Cernan) piloted by LCDR Eugene A. Cernan, USN. The mission included 45 orbits over 3 days. Recovery was by USS Wasp (CVS-18).
18 Jul 66
Gemini 10
Earth Orbiter (Young, Collins) LCDR John W. Young, USN, was the Command Pilot. Mission involved 43 orbits at an altitude of 412.2 nautical miles and lasted 2 days, 22 hours, and 46 minutes. Recovery was by HS-3 helicopter from USS Guadalcanal (LPH-7).
12 Sep 66
Gemini 11
Earth Orbiter (Conrad, Gordon) piloted by CDR Charles Conrad Jr., USN, and LCDR Richard F. Gordon, Jr., USN. The mission lasted 2 days and 23 hours and included 44 orbits at an altitude of 1368.9 km. Recovery was by HS-3 helicopter from USS Guam (LPH-9).
11 Nov 66
 Gemini 12
Earth Orbiter (Lovell, Aldrin) CDR James A. Lovell, Jr., USN, was the Command Pilot. The mission lasted 3 days, 22 hours and 34 minutes and included 59 orbits at an altitude of 162.7 nautical miles. Recovery was by HS-11 helicopter from USS Wasp (CVS-18).
27 Jan 67

Saturn Fire
Lt. Col. Virgil I. Grissom, USAF, Lt. Col.  Edward H. White II, USAF, and LCDR Roger B. Chaffee USN perish in a fire on board the Apollo I Command Service Module during a pre-flight rehersal.
Aug 1967
R.O. Middleton
becomes Manager  of Apollo Program
11 Oct 68
Apollo 7
Earth Orbiter (Schirra, Eisele, Cunningham) First US 3-man space mission, commanded by CAPT Walter M. Schirra, Jr., USNMAJ Ronnie Walter Cunningham (USMCR), served as Lunar Module Pilot. The mission lasted 10 days and 20 hours. Recovery was by HS-5 helicopters from USS Essex (CVS-9).
21 Dec 68
Apollo 8
Lunar Orbiter (Borman, Lovell, Anders) CAPT James A. Lovell, Jr., USN, was Command Module Pilot. During the mission, Lovell was one of the first 2 humans to see the far side of the moon. The mission lasted 6 days and 3 hours and included 10 moon orbits. Recovery was by HS-4 helicopters from USS Yorktown (CVS-10).
03 Mar 69

Apollo 9
Earth Orbiter (McDivitt, Scott, Schweikart)
18 May 69
Apollo 10
Lunar Orbiter (Stafford, Young, Cernan) dress rehearsal for first lunar landing mission. CDR John W. Young, USN, was the Command Module Pilot and CDR Eugene A. Cernan, USN, was the Lunar Module Pilot. During the 8 day mission, the craft made 31 lunar orbits in 61.6 hours. Recovery was by HS-4 helicopter from USS Princeton (LPH-5).
16 Jul 69
Apollo 11
First Lunar Landing  (Armstrong, Aldrin, Collins)  On 20 July former naval aviator and Apollo 11 Neil A. Armstrong, USN became the first person to set foot on the moon saying: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Armstrong was Commander of Apollo 11 which during its 8 day mission landed on the moon's Sea of Tranquility. Recovery was by HS-4 helicopters from USS Hornet (CVS-12). (To see a YouTube video, click HERE.
Oct 1969
R.O. Middleton
leaves NASA

Article: "New Apollo Program Aide"

From:  The New York Times 20 July 1967

 CAPE KENNEDY, Fla., July 18 (AP) - The admiral who headed a destroyer fleet that recovered Col. John H. Glenn, Jr., the astronaut in 1962 was named today to be Apollo program manager at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Kennedy Space Center here.  Rear Adm. Roderick O. Middleton, now of NASA's Office of Manned Space Flight in Washington, will fill a vacancy created last May when Maj. Gen. John G. Shinkle resigned as Apollo program manager.

Did you also know.... ?

 LCDR R.O. Middleton was the Gunnery Officer on the USS Little Rock CL 92 in 1947?   Check out what the Little Rock was doing in 1947 in the Chronology Section


Born: Jan. 23, 1919 - Died: Jan. 10, 1978
Burial: Eden Cemetery
Crescent City, Putnam County, Florida, USA

Additional Information
Middleton USNA   

From U.S. Naval Academy
1941 Yearbook

Class of 1941

Pomona, FL

Rod's career has been as interesting as it has been varied. From juggling canned beans in a small grocery store to wrestling with a tractor in one of Florida's many orange groves, then to the less strenuous job as a movie usher and the occupation of drawing suds in a beer garden, and finally to management of a restaurant. After he realized that some form of higher education is necessary in this world, he studied at Florida Southern College with a scholarship and then, following two valuable as well as enjoyable years on the campus, the great inspiration came, and finally the fulfillment — Annapolis.

Rod is ambitious. All one need do to discover the source of his inspiration is to open his locker door where six square feet of photographs of the same girl smile forth. Some day we expect to see great deeds done by Rod. His analytical mind, his natural aptitude, and a wealth of feminine inspiration have insured his success. Rod's easy going nature and constant good humor have gained him many friends.

Outdoor Rifle 4, 3; Indoor Rifle 4, 3; Battalion Football 4; Company Pistol 3, 2.

Crew Remembrances & Anecdotes
(Add yours..... Contact Art Tilley)

From William Spurgeon  FTM-3

"I served on Little Rock from Oct '63 to June '66.  I remember distinctly the change of command in which Capt. Middleton relieved Capt. Bell.  We were in Amsterdam, Holland and the crew was assembled on the fantail for the ceremony.  When Capt. Middleton accepted command, as part of his remarks he voiced his opinion that "sailors belong on ships and ships belong at sea." 

This was followed immediately by a low, sad moan from the crew.  We certainly DID NOT agree with him.  To this day I don't know if he heard the crew's response."

Ed. Note: Our Chronology for 1964 would indicate that Capt. Middleton took command of the Little Rock while the ship was in Norfolk. The stop in Amsterdam was earlier (June or July) and Capt. Bell was CO at that time. Anybody have any corroborating evidence?

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